News You May Have Missed: November 10, 2019

You may have noticed that there was some rather remarkable elections news last week. Chrysostom has a full summary. Heather Cox Richardson has an excellent analysis of the elections and what they indicate about the Republican party’s strategies. She now has her nightly analyses of national political events on a website, if you’d prefer to stay away from Facebook.

Another illuminating piece is Emily Bazelton’s piece in the NY Times magazine about the battle between Congress and Trump about whether staff in the administration can testify.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. What Migrant Protection Protocols really mean

Picture this: you are an asylum-seeker from the Guatemalan highlands who speaks only Ki’che’ and who has entered the United States through a legal port of entry in Eagle Pass, Texas. As part of the Republican administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), you are immediately returned to the Mexican side of the border in Piedras Negras. You are told you must wait there until you are given a hearing date and are left to find food and shelter on your own. When your hearing date arrives in two to four months, you will travel to a “tent court” over 120 miles distant from the city in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) left you. You will “see” the judge in that court via videoconferencing. You will have no direct contact. If you don’t have a legal representative, you will be provided with an interpreter, also via teleconferencing, who will translate proceedings into Spanish, a language you do not speak. If you do have a legal representative, you will not be provided with an interpreter, so you will have to hope that attorney is fluent in your indigenous language.

In the “broadcast center” DHS attorneys who remain offscreen and have access to electronic technology. You will be subject to humiliating searches on your way into the tent-court, which sometimes have been reported to include body-cavity searches. Your legal representative will have to locate the unmarked entrance to the tent-court, will have to provide official paperwork, and then will be “escorted” by DHS guards the entire time they are in the structure, including when they need to use a bathroom. And your legal representative—unlike those DHS attorneys—will not have any access to electronic equipment, meaning they cannot do any data searches or legal research while they attend your hearing, as an attorney who has been through the process described it to the Hill. If your attorneys need electronic access for any reason, such as scheduling your next hearing date, they will be escorted out of the structure, where they can use electronic devices, then will have to go through all the admissions checks once again and be “escorted” back to the hearing room.

This entire procedure is what is known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), and all asylum seekers entering the U.S. through San Diego and Calexico California and El Paso, Laredo, Brownsville, and Eagle Pass in Texas are subject to MPP. As of mid-October, some 55,000 asylum-seekers have been subject to the MPP, according to VOA, which points out that a sixth city has been designated as a waiting area for asylum seekers. And the Times points out that some people have been sent back to these “cities” who have no chance at all of asylum.

An immigrant family affected by MPP and a group of organizations, including the ACLU and Jewish Family Service of San Diego, filed suit on Tuesday against the way the MPP denies immigrants access to attorneys, according to the San Diego Union Tribute. S-HP

If you want to advocate for humane treatment for asylum seekers, write to your members of Congress. Addresses can be found here.

2. DACA at the Supreme Court; Senate holds up legislation

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday on whether Trump’s decision to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. There are 660,000 people who were brought to the US as children covered by DACA–all of whom would be liable for deportation if Trump’s actions are upheld, according to Reuters.

Just a reminder—more than a year after Congressional Democrats rolled over and approved federal budget extensions in exchange for promised DACA legislation, we still have no DACA legislation in sight. In June, the House, which is now Democrat-controlled, passed the American Dream and Promise Act, H.R.6, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for two million “Dreamers,” the Washington Post reported then. That legislation is now with the Senate “under General Orders,” which is Congress-speak for “in over four months Mitch McConnell hasn’t even assigned it to a committee.”

Note that the New York Times has a moving photo essay on DACA recipients. S-HP

 If you want to remind your representatives that the U.S. is the only home Dreamers know, that they are making huge contributions to our nation, and that they need a path to citizenship now, find their addresses here.

3. Kentucky governor who lost asks for election review

Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin, trailing in the vote count in the Kentucky election last week, has questioned the election’s legitimacy and requested a recanvassing, a process by which Kentucky election officials will reprint receipts from voting machines to check for irregularities. This is a largely clerical process that is unlikely to change the outcome of the election. Under state law, if the recanvass affirms the victory of Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin would have the option to contest the election, which would ask the state legislature–where Republicans have a supermajority–to investigate the election and decide an outcome. The Republican President of the Senate, Robert Strivers has said that unless the recanvass shows significant irregularities, Bevin should concede.

Bevin claims that there were “a number of significant irregularities” in the vote, although he has declined to provide evidence, NPR reports. The claim of election “irregularities” has become a recent part of the narrative around elections, although fraud is rarely found. Experts warn that this is deteriorating the public’s faith in the election process. JM-L

4. Expecting orders, USAID gives grants to Christian groups

According to ProPublica, in a November 2018 email, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) appointee explained in an email to others at the agency “we need to stay ahead of this curve everywhere lest our interventions be dictated to us.” And what “curve” would that be? The Pence-wants-you-to-reroute-aid-to-Christian-groups curve. According to a review of internal USAID communications and forty interviews with current and former foreign aid workers, Pence and his staff have “convinced key decision-makers that unless they fall in line [by redirecting grants to Christian groups], their jobs could be at stake.”

These demands fly in the face of Agency regulations that require awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.” ProPublica has noted that the most recent round of USAID grants to Iraq included grants to two Christian organizations never provided funding before: “One of the groups selected for the newest awards has no full-time paid staff, no experience with government grants and a financial tie that would typically raise questions in an intense competition for limited funds. The second organization received its first USAID direct grant after extensive public comments by its leader and allies highlighting what they described as a lack of U.S. assistance to Christians.” The moral here? It is much more dignified to violate regulations in anticipation of administration desires rather than waiting to be ordered to violate those regulations. S-HP

If you want to remind key committee members about the importance of keeping church and state separate, you can find their addresses here.

5. Dark Money could flow to nonprofits

Proposed rules changes by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would make it much easier for “dark money” contributions–that is, money from an undisclosed source–to nonprofits to remain hidden. These rules would allow anonymous donors to funnel political contributions through nonprofits. The public can comment on the rule change until December 9. The IRS has actually attempted to make these rules changes before, without the required public comment period, but were ordered by a federal judge to delay implementation until such a comment period had been allowed. In the language of the current rules-change proposal, the IRS had wanted to “reflect statutory amendments and certain grants of reporting relief announced through subregulatory guidance,” with “subregulatory” meaning “our attempt to put these rules in place without public comment.”

Currently, nonprofits are required to provide the IRS with the names and addresses of everyone from whom they received contributions worth $5,000 or more within a single tax year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The rules change would require nonprofits to collect this information, but end the obligation to report to the IRS without an agency request, making it much more difficult for that information to be accessed by state agencies charged with enforcing state-level tax regulations. As the Brennan Center explains, ultimately the IRS may implement these rules after the public comment period. Without stricter rules than the ones currently up for change being put in place, the general public will be unable to access information about the funding sources for nonprofits. S-HP

You can comment online at the Federal Register website or submit your comment at this address.

6. Whistleblower’s identity leaked by aide to Nunes

The purported identity of the whistleblower whose complaint led to the current impeachment inquiry was leaked by Derek Harvey, currently an aide to Devin Nunes (R-California) and a former member of the National Security Council (NSC), according to The Daily Beast. Harvey has provided what he claims is the whistleblower’s name to Republicans involved in the impeachment investigation, who have apparently been invoking it frequently in secret hearings in hope of its wider release, according to Salon.

While on the NSC, Harvey is reported to have compiled a list of State Department officials “disloyal” to Trump. Harvey also originated a defamation campaign against a member of Adam Schiff’s staff, claiming the staffer and the Whistleblower exchanged information before the whistleblower complaint was filed and that this proved the whistleblower’s complaint was a partisan attack. In fact, such information exchanges did not take place. “We are aware of these unsupported and false attacks on a respected member of our staff,” a senior Intelligence Committee official told The Daily Beast. “It is completely inappropriate, and we have previously urged the Republican leadership to address this situation.” S-HP

Do you think those who leak the whistleblower’s identity should be prosecuted? Write the appropriate committee chairs at the addresses listed here.

7. Domestic employees ordered to work while homeowners evacuated

During the latest round of California fires, as homeowners fled, domestic employees were expected to continue travelling into evacuation zones for their normal business of cleaning and other chores. In the wake of reports about risks undertaken by domestic workers, Frank Polazzi, of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health responded to a query by the Los Angeles Times by affirming that there is no labor code preventing a domestic employer from ordering a domestic worker to remain in a mandatory fire evacuation zone. In general, state and federal workplace safety codes requiring employers to provide safe workplaces do not apply to domestic workers. Additionally, if a domestic worker refuses to work in hazardous conditions, there’s no legal protection from retaliation, including firing. S-HP

If you want to write California’s governor about protections for migrant workers, his address is here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Mexico, too, is arresting child asylum-seekers

The U.S. isn’t the only country arresting minors attempting to enter the country to seek asylum. Mexico is also arresting minor asylum seekers in significant numbers. According to El Sol de Mexico, over the last fiscal year (October 1, 2018-September 30, 2019), during which U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested 76,000 minor asylum-seekers, Mexico arrested an additional 40,500 on its side of the border. Most of these children were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. S-HP

You can write to the ambassador to Mexico and ask him to raise the issue of minor asylum-seekers–and to your representatives to ask them to think about the big picture of minors seeking help.

9. High levels of lead in Canadian water

33% of 12,000 households tested in Canada had dangerously high levels of lead in their water, the AP reported. Testing for lead is not mandatory in Canada, and there is no systematic record-keeping of results when tests are done. Especially in children under six, ingesting lead can cause multiple problems, from developmental delays and learning delays to gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lead in drinking water usually results from deteriorating lead pipes; cities may replace the pipes they control, but homeowners are usually responsible for the $5,000 it costs to replace the pipes from the street to the home. While running the water whenever it has sat in the pipes for more than six hours can lower lead to acceptable levels, if residents do not know that the water has lead, they will not know to run the water.

As Martha Mendoza pointed out in her piece for the AP, the presence of lead was documented not by health officials but by reporters: As she put it, the information about lead emerged from “a yearlong investigation by more than 120 journalists from nine universities and 10 media organizations.”

First Nations in Canada have even more acute water quality issues, Human Rights Watch reported in October. Though First Nations communities have raised the issue for years, there are still 56 drinking water advisories in place–that is, 56 communities in which the water is not safe to drink. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. New study shows sea level rise to be more devastating than thought

A paper published in the journal Nature Communications details how long standing projections regarding sea level rise are based on faulty data and that the real numbers are much worse. The problem isn’t the rate at which the sea is rising or the amount of melt water going into the oceans; it’s that old data about the elevation of coastal areas are incorrect and many low-lying coastal areas are even closer to sea level than previously thought. This recalculation has enormous implications for dozens of coastal cities, especially throughout Asia, and means that sea level rise will put 150 million people living below sea level at high tides by 2050, Rolling Stone explains. That is the equivalent of the entire populations of Mexico and Australia being displaced in thirty years. At a minimum, billions, if not trillions, of dollars will have to be spent in order to keep seas at bay from major cities. JC

11. New “unstickable” adhesive developed

As the demand for rare metals grow,s the need to recycle so-called “e-waste” has become increasingly important. One large barrier to mass recycling of consumer electronic items is that many of them are put together using lots of adhesive in order to achieve the thin form factor customers demand. Adhesives are a serious problem for would-be recyclers, as there is no good way to dismantle components so that their valuable metals can be processed economically. A research paper submitted to the European Polymer Journal might just provide a solution, Phys.org reports. Researchers found that by putting tiny metal particles into the adhesives and then subjecting the set glue to an alternating magnetic field, they could loosen the adhesives and allow for components to be separated. Particularly helpful is that this process seems to work across a wide array of adhesives and can easily be adopted into current manufacturing processes. JC

12. Keystone XL pipeline leaks 383,000 gallons of crude oil

The Keystone XL pipeline suffered a major leak in late October, releasing approximately 383,000 gallons of oil into North Dakota wetlands, one of a number of leaks that have occurred along the four-stage pipeline project during its construction, the Washington Post reports. Nonetheless, the State Department is accepting comments through November 18 in response to a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding a new “Mainline Alternative Route” for a section of the pipeline.

While the report does acknowledge that construction would disturb sacred land (not the government’s term for it) along the Trail of Tears, it does not acknowledge that the area being “studied” has not undergone any substantial review of environmental or cultural resources in the last ten years.  That means that any new environmental vulnerabilities or new cultural sites discovered in that period have not been taken into consideration in the SEIS. Aside from the problems with the SEIS, there are ongoing concerns about leaks, the particularly polluting tar sands oil the pipeline will carry, and the role the pipeline will play in delaying our move away from fossil fuels while we are in the middle of a planet-threatening climate crisis. S-HP

You can comment on the problem of using old data to make decisions about the Keystone XL pipeline for the public record. Instructions are here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has clear information about quick actions you can take to make a difference.
  • If you want to use Sarah-Hope’s list for postcarding, here are all the action items together.
  • Martha’s list, which lists opportunities to comment for the public record, has some critical items this week: Several proposals on drilling in Alaska, diverting the Sacramento River, relaxing standards for dumping coal waste into rivers, and the final nail in the coffin for the Clean Water Act–along with a proposal to charge fees to immigrants/asylum-seekers.
  • Rogan’s list has a way to add your voice to that of the 11,000 scientists who declared a climate emergency this week. She also tells us how to insist that elections are secure, suggests that we advocate for impeachment, and reminds us that enrollment has opened for the Affordable Care Act. It’s important to pass the word on the ACA as open enrollment has not been advertised at all.

News You May Have Missed: November 3, 2019

Heather Cox Richardson comments on the Mueller investigation documents obtained by way of Buzzfeed‘s Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Hundreds of pages were released last week, and batches will be released every month for the next eight years.  Last week’s documents sketch the origins of Trump’s preoccupation with Ukraine, the Trump campaign’s willingness to seek Russian help,  Kushner’s connection with a Russian billionaire. Richardson pulls all this together and includes a reflective PS on Wikileaks. 

Advocates for the humane treatment of immigrants have won some small (and possibly temporary) victories: Both the “public charge” rule–which would prevent immigrants from obtaining green cards if the immigration officials suspect they might at some point use public benefits–and the rule that required potential immigrants to show that they would have health insurance within 30 days have been blocked by judges. Court battles on both are pending.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Children leaving border camps–crossing alone

Some 50,000 asylum-seekers have been processed under the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” (MPP) which require them to wait in Mexico while their cases are being considered. The Intercept has a vivid description of one of the makeshift refugee camps where families are living. Now children and teenagers are leaving their families and crossing the border alone; because they are not covered under MPP, they will not be sent back. Some of their families have given up on seeking asylum and have returned to their home countries, knowing they may never see their children again. As one father told the Intercept, “I feel sad every day without [my daughter]. I feel lonely. But it was much more dangerous for her here than for either of us over there. May God forgive me.” RLS

If you want to call for an end to the Migrant Protection Protocols, you can speak up to your elected officials. Addresses are here.

2. Help for farmworkers impacted by California fires

There are both dangerous and hopeful times for California’s agricultural workers. While fire-fighters race to battle the many fires in the state, farmworkers are outside in the smoke bringing in the grape harvest—or, if the harvest has been cancelled or postponed, trying to figure out how to support families given the loss of wages. As National Public Radio explains, “Outside of the fire itself, the main health concern in wildfire conditions is smoke, which produces particulate matter, a mix of gases and microscopic pieces of solid matter…. increasing the risk of respiratory diseases and asthma, as well as heart problems. These risks lead health authorities to warn people in areas affected by wildfire to stay indoors and limit exertion. Farmworkers, an essential component of the wine country economy, along with construction workers, utility workers and many others who make their livelihood outside, can’t always take such precautions.”

The hope comes in the form of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R.4916, which is cosponsored by 24 Democrats and 21 Republicans. The legislation took nine months to hammer out with participation from both sides of the House, farmers, and farmworkers, Vox reports. At the legislation’s introduction, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) explained, “The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation.” Republican House member Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) noted that H.R.4916 “will provide some much-needed certainty. It does so by modernizing the H-2A program, stabilizing wages, and instituting a merit-based system for agricultural workers to eventually earn legal status – but only after years of proven and consistent employment in the U.S. agriculture industry, vigorous background checks, and state-of-the-art biometric verification. It’s what the people who work to feed our country need.” S-HP

Some 38,000 undocumented people live in Sonoma County, according to Undocufund, which is raising funds to assist them. You can also ask Cal-OSHA to monitor conditions for farmworkers.

3. US abandoning responsibility for refugees

The US took in no refugees in October, abandoning its responsibilities as a world leader in this regard, Politico explains in a detailed article. The administration has set the 2020 refugee cap at 18,000, by far the lowest number since the program was established in 1980 (the previous low was 67,000 in 1986; the high thus far has been the 231,700 admitted in 1980). The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office has no overseas trips for initial interviews of refugees for the remainder of this calendar year.

When in October, the U.S. announced it would not be admitting any refugees for the month, refugees were left in limbo and some 500 flights were cancelled. The administration says the moratorium will continue through November 5. Meanwhile, transportation will need to be cancelled and rebooked at taxpayer expense for the small numbers of refugees on track to be admitted. CNN points out a United Nations Refugee Agency statement that “[t]he latest travel delays come as the humanitarian crisis in Syria worsens. More than 12,000 Syrian refugees have recently fled to shelters in the region.” Refugee admissions this year have fallen well below approved ceilings.

For example, the 2020 U.S. refugee cap allows for 4,000 Iraqi refugees to be admitted, but this past year (the federal fiscal year ends on September 30) delays and heightened vetting meant only 465 Iraqi refugees were actually allowed in. Those Iraqis are people who assisted the US during the war–translators, contractors, workers in all areas–some of whom risked their lives to do so, according to the New York Times. The Pentagon is the only voice within the administration advocating for the admission of refugees, according to NBC. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the refugee cap, some options are here.

4. Work permits extended for Salvadorans: Another quid pro quo?

The Los Angeles Times headline read “Trump administration extends protections for Salvadorans, allowing thousands to stay in the U.S.” The reality was more stark. Salvadorans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have been granted a one-year extension of their work permits, but no extension of their TPS status, which is the subject of litigation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, in Washington to sign the agreements, said Salvadorans are being given ‘breathing room’ to find a permanent solution that will eventually earn them residency or citizenship.”

Ken Cuccinelli, acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, on the other hand, said that TPS was not being extended at all. There’s also a layer of contradiction underlying the U.S. move. While the U.S. is allowing Salvadorans with TOPS to remain in the country an additional year, suggesting that conditions in El Salvador are not safe for return, it has also signed an agreement with El Salvador committing it to preventing refugees from other Central American Nations from continuing their journey to the U.S., suggesting that El Salvador is a “safe” destination for asylum-seekers. S-HP

If you want to advocate for Salvadorans to have their Temporary Protected Status preserved, write your members of Congresses–addresses here.

5. One private detention center closing, eight more opening

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been paying Calliburn $720,000 per day to maintain the Homestead Detention Center in Florida, which had held asylum-seekers, but which in fact has had its bed capacity reduced to zero, meaning it is housing no asylum seekers whatsoever. That contact will not be renewed on November 30th, which means that taxpayers will only continue paying nearly three-quarters of a million dollars a day for absolutely nothing for an additional month.

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been building a closer relationship with Louisana-based LaSalle Corrections. ICE has paid to have eight additional immigration detention centers built in Louisiana, six of them operated by LaSalle. Vice reports on years of documented and alleged abuse at LaSalle facilities, including verbal abuse, moldy food, and indifference to inmate health. One detainee at a LaSalle facility committed suicide in October after being placed in solitary confinement. Because private detention centers are operated for profit, contactors are strongly motivated to provide only minimal—even insufficient—services to keep profits high. S-HP

If you want to speak up about private detention centers, here are some possibilities.

6. Cuts to food assistance

Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps and in California known as CalFresh, would be cut under a Trump Administration proposal. The new proposal would change the benefits for many SNAP and CalFresh recipients based on a new calculation for household utilities. According to Forbes, “The new rules would prohibit states from expanding who is eligible for the program beyond the so-called federal baseline, which is $33,475 for a family of four—or 130% of the federal poverty level.” Through this action, the administration could force some low-income families–including veterans, according to Stripes–to choose between putting food on their table and keeping the heat on in their homes, particularly in states with high costs of living. The official comment period for this proposal is open through December 2. S-HP

To send an official comment objecting to cuts in food assistance, follow the instructions here.

7. Disabled people abandoned in power outage

Twenty disabled seniors, dependent on wheelchairs and walkers, were left in the dark in their low-income Nothern California apartment building when PG&E, the troubled California utility, shut off power to two million customers. The elevators did not work and the hallways and stairwells were completely dark, leading to falls and disorientation. The management of the building did not check on residents. The incident was covered by the AP, but only a few American news sites picked it up; the Toronto Star ran the story.

Many other people with disabilities were at risk during the outages. People with lung disease need equipment to ease their breathing; people who use insulin must keep it refrigerated. Even the call buttons some wear depend on electricity. PG&E provided tents where people could use their medical equipment and recharge their devices, reported National Public Radio, but people without transportation could not get to them. And when the power is out, even people with cars cannot get their garage doors open, the Los Angeles Times notes.

You can let California’s Governor Gavin Newsom know that seniors and disabled people need to be safe in power outages: 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841.

8. Climate left out of fire coverage

The fires in California and weather disasters in other states aren’t happening in a vacuum; climate changes are directly implicated, in part because hotter, drier weather makes trees more vulnerable to pests that kill them–and become fuel for any spark, CNN reports. The Trump administration is blocking California’s efforts to deal with the climate crisis and criticizing its firefighting. Former Governor Jerry Brown explained the problem this way, the New York Times reported: “The seas are rising, diseases are spreading, fires are burning, hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their homes. California is burning while the deniers fight the standards that can help us all. This is life-and-death stuff.”

Too often, however, reporting on fires leaves out climate, as the Columbia Journalism Review points out. As long as these are treated as isolated events, there is little impetus for systematic change to address the climate crisis.

You can let media outlets know that they need to be clear how the fires and other weather disasters are part of the climate emergency.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Bipartisan efforts to address persecution of Muslims in China

As we noted October 14, reports from China describe the detention and mistreatment of Uighur Muslims—and other Muslim groups—in China, including allegations of the internment of nearly one million Chinese Muslims, torture, systematic sexual abuse, forced abortions, and cultural reprogramming. The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2016 has been passed by the Senate and is now awaiting consideration in the House.

According to the official House summary, “[t]his bill directs various U.S. government bodies to prepare reports on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence shall report to Congress on issues including the security threats caused by the Chinese government’s reported crackdown on the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province, the frequency with which other governments are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and asylum seekers to China, and the development or transfer of technology that facilitates mass internment and surveillance…. The Department of State shall report on the scope of the reported crackdown in Xinjiang, including the number of detained individuals, the use of forced labor in the region, an assessment of government surveillance in the province, and U.S. diplomatic efforts to address the crackdown.” The House legislation, H.R.649, is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and two of Judiciary’s subcommittees: Immigration and Citizenship and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. S-HP

To address the situation of Uighurs and other Muslim groups, you can urge the relevant committees to act quickly on HR 649.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Measles destroys the immune system’s “memory”

With measles epidemics making a global comeback due to poor rates of immunization, scientists have been studying the disease anew and have found some disturbing new facets to the illness. In two studies conducted by Cambridge University and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, researchers sampled blood from a community of Orthodox Protestant children in the Netherlands, comparing those exposed to measles to those who had not contracted the illness. They found that the measles virus wreaks havoc on the immune system of children long after they recover from measles itself, most importantly “resetting” the acquired immunities the children had collected prior to the illness and returning their immune systems to that of babies. Alarmingly, they found that the natural antibodies that the children depend on to protect them from other illnesses plummeted, decreasing from 11 percent to as much as 73 percent after measles, Science reported. Thus, the return of the measles is a double risk, first from the initial infection and then from subsequent follow-on infections, making immunization all the more important.  JC

11. Trump administration prevents scientist from revealing dangers of PFAS

As the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology program, Dr. Linda Birnbaum has made a career out of protecting the public from the dangers posed by industrial chemical exposure. After recently retiring, she has revealed that she was restricted in what she was allowed to publish by Trump administration officials, who insisted she water down her language regarding the dangers posed by a group of widely used chemicals called PFAS. PFAS compounds are in many products, including fire-fighting foam, stain-resistant coatings and non-stick surfaces such as cookware, microwave popcorn bags, and fast-food wrappers. According to Birnbaum’s findings, they are associated with kidney cancer, reproductive problems, immune system issues in children, and other issues.

While opposition to her research findings is nothing new (she was at the forefront of warning the public against the dangers posed by glyphosates in pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup), the official pressure to moderate her language was unprecedented. In particular she was restricted from using the word “cause” in reference to PFAS, despite ample research to meet the bar for concluding causality, the Intercept reported. Instead, she was told to use “associated,” a far less alarming term in the field. Should PFAS be found in courts to have caused illnesses such as cancer, the government and industry would be exposed to billions of dollars in liabilities JC

12. Program to identify animal-to-human disease to be shuttered

Some of the most dangerous diseases we face are zoonoses, diseases that originate in animals but migrate to humans. As the New York Times explains, “The United Nations Environment Program estimates that a new animal disease that can also infect humans is discovered every four months.” These include diseases like Ebola, Influenza, and Anthrax. Disease vectors include everything from bat-filled trees to gorilla carcasses to camel barns. With airline travel, diseases like these can also move across our planet in a matter of days. For the last ten years, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Predict project to track just such diseases. Predict has identified more than 1,000 new viruses and trained some 5,000 people in Asia and Africa to conduct testing to identify viruses. Now, the federal government is shutting down Predict, one of our best hopes for early identification of emerging diseases. S-HP

You can write the head of USAID and your members of Congress about the Predict program. Addresses are here.

13. DNA to be collected from asylum-seekers, other immigrants

The administration continues to rally support (and hate) by reinforcing the “bad hombre” stereotype that Trump made famous during the 2016 debates . In fact, the crime rate for both documented and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is much lower than it is for citizens, the New York Times reported in May. Now the administration is proposing a rule that will allow it to collect DNA from almost any asylum-seeker crossing the border at official entry points, Gizmodo reports. This new policy would supersede earlier rules that allowed DNA collection only from migrants being prosecuted for criminal offenses, according to NPR. S-HP

If you want to submit an official comment on the proposal to collect DNA from immigrants, follow the instructions here.

RESOURCES

  • Sarah-Hope’s list has the action items above along with others, including ways to address the issue we covered last week on the racism inherent in health-care algorithms.
  • Martha’s list provides opportunities to comment for the public record; the policy changes pending would undo agricultural worker, food and environmental protections, implement anti-LGBTQ foster care and adoption measures, permit border officials to delay action on asylum-seekers–and much more.
  • Rogan’s list has resources on Indigenous issues, uninsured children, voter purges and much more.
  • See Chrysostom’s comprehensive election round-up here.

News You May Have Missed: October 27, 2019

We hope that all of our California readers–and your households and animals–are safe from fire and smoke. For context on the fires, see the story on PG&E below.

Since you won’t have missed the news about Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, we simply want to recommend that you read Heather Cox Richardson’s post on the subject. She collects the troubling moments about the announcement–that the scene in the situation room was apparently staged, that Trump did not notify Congress as required by law. Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria jeopardized the whole operation, says the New York Times. Three of al-Baghdadi’s children were killed in the raid; 11 were saved.

Tune in to election issues at the federal and state level by reading our colleague Chrysostom’s posts. Other sources of information and opportunities for action are under the Resources tab and below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Documented: Children abused in ICE custody

Children have described being beaten while handcuffed, being run over by ATVs, being bitten by dogs, being forced to strip, and being left in “icebox” rooms nearly naked for hours at a time, according to 35,000 heavily redacted pages documenting claims of Border Patrol abuse of underage asylum seekers between 2009 and 2014 obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) received after a lengthy legal battle. Public radio station KPBS reports that many of these cases have already been “resolved”—at least as far as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are concerned—though civil cases may still be pursued for some. The range of alleged abuses is deeply disturbing and presents a culture of abuse that significantly predates the current administration.

ABC News also reports that, according to the ACLU, another 1,500 children were separated from their families before the June, 2018, ruling barring the practice. When a judge ordered that all separated children be reunited with their families, the administration said that it had identified 2,814 such children. The judge also gave the administration until October 25 to release the names of any additional separated children. The new list of 1,500 children was released by the government on October 24, one day before the legal deadline. That number includes 207 children under the age of 5. CBS News also reported that the administration separated an additional 1,090 children from families since the court ordered an end to the practice, except in limited circumstances. The current number of separated children is now more than 5,400. S-HP

If you want to challenge the detention of young asylum-seekers and speak up about the conditions in which they are held, here is whom you might write.

2. Evidence destroyed in death of trans asylum-seeker

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is one of the federal agencies required to preserve evidence when it anticipates litigation. The death of transgender asylum-seeker Roxsana Hernández while in ICE custody would seem to be such a case. However, Buzzfeed News reports that according to internal emails, ICE chose to delete surveillance footage that included Hernández. What did the footage show? We don’t know—and even if it didn’t document abuse, it could have provided a valuable benchmark of Hernández’s health and physical condition in ICE detention. Lynly Egyes, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, said that CoreCivic, which ran the detention center, and ICE should have anticipated there would be a lawsuit because Hernández’s family requested an independent autopsy that was performed on June 8. “That autopsy alone made it clear there was interest in this case,” Egyes told BuzzFeed News. “When a detainee death review is conducted, it’s important to keep track of all the documents to understand why someone died, and for that reason alone, they should’ve been keeping all of this evidence.” S-HP

To call for a Congressional investigation of this destruction of evidence that should have been preserved under federal law, see this list of whom to write.

3. A million fewer children uninsured

More than one million children disappeared from Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) rolls btween December 2017 and June 2019, 3% of the children who had been insured before that period. Administration officials insist that these children have not lost health insurance, but that their parents now hold jobs through which the children are insured. However, a New York Times analysis of census data shows that “administrative changes aimed at fighting fraud and waste—and rising fears of deportation in immigrant communities—are pushing large numbers of children out of the programs, and that many of them are now going without coverage.” Some of the states with the highest drops in children’s insurance rates are those that have changed coverage rules to require more frequent checks of family eligibility or have reset their lists with new computer programs. Families who are dropped from insurance as a result of one of these checks often don’t realize their status has changed until the insurance is needed and periods for contesting removals are often brief. S-HP

If you want to raise concerns about the number of children covered by Medicaid, you can find your members of Congress here.

4. Fake pique: Republicans had access to testimony

Congressional Republicans continue to fight the impeachment investigation being undertaken by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Government Reform Committees. In particular, Republican have been complaining about the process for the investigation, claiming that Republicans are being excluded from the process. This is simply untrue. Only members of the investigating committees are allowed to hear testimony, but as with all Congressional committees, members of both parties sit on these three committees. In fact, nearly one quarter of all House Republicans are members of one of those committees. Despite this, on October 23 a group of Republican Representatives stormed a secure room where testimony was scheduled and shut down operations for more than five hours. Eleven of those participating in this act of “resistance” were already members of one of the committees conducting the investigation and had access to the testimony. S-HP

Do you want to ask some of these Republicans what they were thinking? Here is a list.

5. Trump won’t reject “illicit offers” of help

One would think that legislation requiring federal election campaigns to report “illicit offers” of assistance from foreign entities would be a no-brainer. Such assistance is already illegal, and now the House has passed the SHIELD Act, H.R.4617 to mandate reporting. It is not clear, however, whether the Senate will even take this legislation under consideration and Trump has announced that if such legislation is passed by Congress, he will veto it. S-HP

To advocate for safe and fair elections, write your senators–addresses here.

6. Aid to Puerto Rico deliberately delayed

NBC News has reported that “two top officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted at a Congressional hearing [on October 17] that the agency knowingly missed a legally required deadline that would have made desperately needed hurricane relief funding available to Puerto Rico.” That Congressionally mandated deadline would have begun a months-long process of helping Puerto Rico obtain billions in federal housing funds that had already been allocated by Congress to the U.S. territory. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had been directed to notify Puerto Rico and seventeen disaster-affected states of the available funds by September 4, so that each could begin developing methods for distributing the much-needed funding. All of the states were properly notified; Puerto Rico was not. Congress allocated approximately $43 billion in disaster funding for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Two year later, some two-thirds of that funding remains undistributed. S-HP

If you want to advocate that aid for Puerto Rico be released without further delay, here is a list of people to write.

7. California public utility implicated in fires knew its equipment was unsafe

185,000 people are being evacuated in Northern California this weekend, fleeing the uncontrolled 25,500 acre Kincade fire that has ravaged the wine country and contaminated the air for miles around, according to the Press Democrat, the best source on this ongoing story. The fire was apparently sparked by a PG&E high-voltage transformer which had not yet been shut off; PG&E, the local utility has pre-emptively shut off power to nearly a million people in light of expected high winds, according to NPR.

PG&E has known for years that its transmission lines were unsafe but declined to upgrade them, a Wall Street Journal investigation in July revealed. Some of its 8,500 miles of line as well as its towers are a hundred years old; the Journal notes that it did not even have workers climbing the towers to inspect them and that it spent money on other kinds of less critical upgrades. The state and federal regulatory system appear to have been hands-off, permitting PG&E to regulate itself. The Journal article is behind a paywall, but the Naked Capitalism blog has the story, along with comments from the U.S. district court judge who is overseeing PG&E’s probation following its conviction in other safety-related charges. As NPR points out, PG&E paid out 4.5 billion to shareholders instead of upgrading infrastructure. RLS

Undocufund is raising money to assist undocumented residents of the area, as they will not have access to federal aid.

8. Veterans Affairs retaliates against whistleblowers

A Veterans Affairs (VA) office designed to protect whistleblowers instead stifled claims and retaliated against employees, according to a recently released Inspector General report. The Washington Post reports that the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection—created with much fanfare by Trump in 2017—was found to have “significant deficiencies,” including poor leadership, skimpy training of investigators, a misunderstanding of its mission and a failure to discipline misconduct. S-HP

You can write members of the Veterans Affairs committees–see this list.

9. Student loan system “fundamentally broken”

A senior student-loan official appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has resigned, reports the Washington Post. Arthur Wayne Johnson was charged with overhauling the student loan repayment system for the Department of Education, but the Washington Post now quotes him acknowledging his failure to effect the overhaul: “When … somebody has $40,000 in student loan debt and, because of forbearances or deferments and the accrual of interest, they wind up with $120,000, you have to step back and say this is fundamentally broken….You have no idea how proud I am of what we’ve done to make the existing process better … but we’re making a broken system better.” Johnson has called for canceling most of the U.S.’s student debt. S-HP 

If you want to speak up about the need for an overhaul of the student loan program, here is how.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Led by high school students, Chileans protest inequality

The Chilean president has declared a state of emergency and Congress has been evacuated as hundreds of protestors stormed the grounds, the Guardian reported on Sunday. As many as a million people have been demonstrating in Santiago over the last week, as well as in cities all over the country.  Human rights observers say that 2000 people have been arrested and more than 500 have been injured in the protests; 19 people have died. Not only has there been a massive military response, but the Guardian reports that masked men are shooting protestors. In contrast to President Pinera’s decision to escalate enforcement against the protests, most of the protestors have been peaceful, according to Al Jazeera, demonstrating by banging on pots with cooking spoons, a tradition called cacerolazo (casserole).

High school students initially launched the protests over a 30 Chilean peso (about 40 cents US) fare hike in the transit system, but larger issues of inequality quickly became central. For perspective, the average income in Chile is about $450 US per month, and most families spend around $65 per month on transportation. Fare-dodging demonstrations followed, which the government addressed by closing the Metro and imposing a police crackdown. Chile is among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A comprehensive discussion of conditions in Chile is available at Alborada.net–it’s a two-part series. RLS

11. Bill would provide Protected Status for Bahamians

In August, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, displacing some 14,000 people. The administration has refused to allow Bahamians Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would allow them to legally live and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. As a result, there is now a movement in Congress to provide TPS to Bahamians through legislation. The Bahamas TPS Act, H.R.4303 in the House; S.2478 in the Senate) would do just that. The House legislation is currently with the Judiciary and Budget Committees. The House Judiciary Committee has assigned the legislation to its Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. The Senate legislation is with that body’s Judiciary Committee S-HP

To urge that TPS be offered to Bahamians, write the people on this list.

12. You-Tube takes down evidence of war crimes

Under pressure not to broadcast hate speech, You-Tube is taking down videos which portray graphic violence. In doing so, however, the company has also deleted evidence of war crimes, in particular 200,000 videos of human rights violations in Syria. As Syrian human-rights activist and video archivist Hadi Al Khatib, who runs a site called The Syrian Archive, said in a video published in the New York Times, “All these takedowns amount to erasing history.”

The ability to upload video to You-Tube is crucial for recording events that are inaccessible to human rights observers and journalists. Some of the videos have been taken down when the Syrian government flags them–such as the videos that documented the government’s use of Sarin gas. The Columbia Journalism Review has a careful discussion of how this issue is playing out world-wide. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Racial bias pervades algorithm used in hospitals

An algorithm used in a computer program that is commonly used in hospitals to allocate healthcare resources has been found to have a serious problem with racial bias, according to a study published in the journal Nature. At issue is the complex set of calculations performed to determine who most needs attention and who can wait, a proprietary formula that is not often available for study. Major bias negatively impacting African American healthcare emerged from a seemingly logical set of assumptions; if you paid more in healthcare costs you were less healthy than those who paid less and were therefore assigned a higher “risk score. “

However, the assumption breaks down in the face of long standing cultural beliefs and systemic racism in the healthcare system. It is known that the average African American who spends X amount of dollars on healthcare is far more likely to be in poorer health than a white person spending the same amount. Why is this? It’s because distrust of doctors is widespread in black communities, resulting in fewer opportunities to interact with the healthcare system. Also, inherent bias in care providers often minimizes the complaints of African American patients versus white patients. The company is working quickly to correct the issue and points out than human judgement is no better at weeding out these sorts of biases. What is needed is more thorough audits of the algorithms before they see widespread use. JC

14. The Americans with Disabilities act applies on-line

A victory for accessibility advocates emerged when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to a decision made by the 9th Circuit Court. The case involves the Domino’s Pizza company and its website and phone app. The plaintiff, who is visually impaired, found that neither were able to be parsed by his screen reading program which rendered them useless to those like him. The case was noted to be hugely important, determining whether or not the ADA extended to online accessibility. The law has long said that so-called “public accommodations” must be made accessible to the disabled; now it is clear than online services are considered “public accommodations” as well, Ars Technica reported.  The cost to correct the issue is minor compared to the cost of litigation; the company apparently preferred to pay more money to be able to discriminate rather than to simply make their websites available to all. JC

15. Banning large-capacity magazines would save lives

Would banning large-capacity magazine (LCM) be effective in reducing high-fatality mass shootings? Yes, according to the American Journal of Public Health, which has just published a new study. Researchers looked at sixty-nine mass shooting events with more than six fatalities between 1990 (when LCMs first came into use) and 2017. 73% of those events involved LCMs and those events had death rates 63% higher than those that did not involve LCMs. S-HP

You can urge action on large-capacity magazines by writing those on this list.

Rat poison

A significant cause of death among California’s predators—owls, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions—is the consumption of rodents who have been poisoned by anticoagulants. These poisons cause catastrophic bleeding, not just in the rodents, but also to those higher up the food chain who eat them. Cats and dogs are also at risk from anticoagulant rat poison. California’s AB-1788, which would have prohibited the use of anticoagulant poisons, made it through the state Assembly, but died in committee in the California Senate. S-HP

Californians, if you want to speak up about rat poison, here is whom you should write.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers clear, well-defined actions you can take.
  • Amy Siskind’s list is paradoxically helpful in identifying how surreal things have become.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list has an additional important story for Californians as well as cohesive opportunities for action.
  • Martha’s list has some urgent items on it requiring comments right away: the reduction of energy efficiency standards, land policy in Alaska, EPA policy re: clean air, ominous-sounding policy changes re: Venezuela.
  • As Martha notes, on Mondays, Rogan’s list features a listing of proposed rule and regulation changes that arecurrently accepting public comment. Commenting is the way to show government agencies howwe feel about these proposed changes. Our comments also become part of a record that will bereviewed by courts if and when a reg change is contested. Courts use comments to judge whether an agency is acting arbitrarily and capriciously.

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: OCTOBER 20, 2019

In trying to make what sense we can of careening events, we have tried to note the key elements of the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory, below. We suggest you read at least the end of Fred Kaplan’s commentary on Slate, in which he explains what seems to constitute Trump’s foreign policy. Robin White has a useful analysis of the situation in Syria as well in the New Yorker.

.Once again, we recommend historian Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly summaries. On Sunday she had a clear analysis of the Clinton/Gabbard dust-up and also notes the silences around the refusal of administration officials to honor subpoenas (see story below on the Constitutional crisis we seem to be in).

Even in the face of events like these, other critical events are unfolding. We offer you a selection below, along with ways to engage.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. Turkey targeting civilians

According to the Red Cross, tens of thousands of civilians in the pathway of the Turkish invasion are at risk. Al Jazeera has stark photographs of people fleeing and the Guardian has vivid descriptions of civilians–dead and injured–being unloaded at hospitals. The ceasefire announced by Pence on Thursday appears only to have given Turkey carte blanche to accumulate and hold territory, CNN reported, quoting an unnamed “senior US official very familiar with operations in Syria” as confirming that the ceasefire was simply “validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population.” 

Turkey says that the pause in fighting–which has since resumed, according to Democracy Now–was not a ceasefire, only an opportunity for Kurds to leave the area. Amnesty International, however, says that Turkish forces are committing war crimes, shelling civilians and impeding humanitarian aid. In particular, civilians have come to hospitals with terrible burns suggesting that Turkey is using white phosphorus against them, according to Newsweek. The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, said that “Turkey’s continued military offensive has driven thousands of already displaced people from what had been places of safe shelter. Turkey’s actions risk hampering the delivery of life-saving assistance and medical aid to those in need, causing a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in a country already ravaged by war.”

The Kurds have been holding 10,000 Isis fighters and 60,000 family members in detention, the Intercept reports; the conditions for family members have led to the deaths of several hundred children.  According to Democracy Now, Trump says that Turkey will take over but experts on the region are alarmed, saying that Isis fighters could escape in the invasion.

The way in which Trump’s decision to cede the territory to Turkey came about has startled many. Mitt Romney had posed the theory that Erdoğan simply announced he was invading and Trump caved. The withdrawal has troubled current and recently retired military officials, the Washington Post reports.

Of particular concern are the 50 nuclear weapons now at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, especially since Erdoğan said recently that he could no longer accept the requirement that Turkey not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, according to the New York Times. Turkey is a signer on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Writing for Slate, Fred Kaplan explains how those nukes got there and why they are still there.

Among Trump’s chilling remarks on the situation in Syria was “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East … the oil that everybody was worried about.” Heather Cox Richardson, the historian who produces reasoned nightly commentaries on the most recent events, asks who “we” refers to. As she puts it, “I have spent hours today researching the oil industry in the region and can come up with no scenario in which the US has gained control of oil in the course of the past ten days. The country that has gained control of oil fields is Russia.” In speaking of “we,” the president apparently meant Russia.

Nancy Pelosi is leading a bipartisan delegation to Jordan for a meeting on security in the area, according to Axios, in particular to talk with Jordanian officials about the issue of Isis fighters, the Washington Post reports. RLS

The House passed a resolution 354-60 condemning Trump for the troop withdrawal, but the Senate refused to consider it. If you want to suggest that your senator revisit the question, contact information is here.

2. Trudeau campaign undermined by fake news

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau is in a tight race against the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer, with the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh making an unexpectedly strong showing. A website in Buffalo, the Buffalo Chronicle is regularly putting out disinformation about Trudeau, among other things that he paid millions to suppress reports of sexual misconduct. The story–debunked by multiple reliable sources–was widely shared on Facebook, which refuses to take it down. RLS

Avaaz is running a petition asking the RCMP to investigate. The election is October 21.

3. Indigenous protesters in Ecuador stop bad IMF deal

Indigenous people in Ecuador forced the government to restore fuel subsidies and reject an International Monetary Fund loan, after two weeks of protests in which eight people were killed and more than two thousand were arrested and/or wounded, according to Democracy Now. Protestors were resisting austerity measures to be imposed in order to meet IMF requirements, the Washington Post reported. Salaries for public workers would also have been cut to pay the IMF, Common Dreams noted. New proposals to address Ecuador’s economic issues will soon be under discussion. Jacobin has an excellent backgrounder on the situation underlying the conflict and in particular on the choices President Lenín Moreno has made that undermined previous successes in addressing inequality. RLS

4. Muslim ban keeps 31,000 people out of the US

Over thirty-one thousand people have been denied entry to the U.S. under Trump’s Muslim ban, according to CNN and the Root. During the first 11 months of the ban, visitors and immigrants from the Muslin majority countries Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen—along with Venezuela and North Korea—have been prohibited from entering, with a small percentage admitted on appeal. The Supreme Court permitted the ban to be implemented last December.

In April, Democrats in both houses introduced “No Ban Bills,” but they are not expected to pass in the Senate. CNN quoted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, as saying, “The Muslim ban has not made us safer. It has weakened our standing in the world and runs contrary to our country’s moral and philosophical foundation. The United States has always been, and must continue to be, a place that welcomes and embraces people of all religions and nationalities.” RLS

If you want to write your representatives about the Muslim ban, addresses are here.

DOMESTIC NEWS

5. Refusal to honor subpoenas a Constitutional crisis

How many administration figures and government agencies are refusing to provide House committees with material they have a right to access under the Constitution—some of them refusing even when that information has been subpoenaed? Let’s see… Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Secretary Mike Pompeo and the Department of State, Attorney General William Barr and the [ironically named, it appears] Department of Justice, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary Rick Perry and the Department of Energy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Pentagon, Director Russ Vought and the Office of Management and Budget, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and no doubt some others, according to the New York Times.

Given the breadth of this refusal to cooperate with Constitutional authority, let’s call the situation what it is—a Constitutional crisis. We have a Constitution. That Constitution and its provisions have been repeatedly violated. If a country with which the U.S. was on less-than-friendly terms had an executive branch so flagrantly violating both Constitution and the legislative branch, we would be denouncing this recalcitrance as a threat to global security and proof that that country’s government was illegitimate. S-HP

If you’d like to remind legislators and administration figures about the significance of the Constitution and their obligations to it, here is a list.

6. No relief from crushing student loans

As NBC News points out, 1 in 5 American adults is paying off student debt—debt that totals $1.6 trillion nationally (yes, that’s trillion with a t). “Sallie Mae” used to be a federally chartered organization processing government loans, but in 2004 it was privatized and now offers private loans, although some Sallie Mae employees also process separate federal loans. Some borrowers have found paying off their debt particularly difficult because, while they thought they were applying for low-interest Federal loans, they have wound up with higher-interest, variable-rate private loans.

Meanwhile, Sallie Mae has celebrated a record year of 374,000 student loans processed, which total $5 billion. The organization celebrated by flying more than 100 of its employees to the Fairmont on Wailea Beach in Maui. Ray Quinlan, CEO of Sallie Mae, did tell NBC that this Hawaii stay was not an “incentive trip.” Rather, it was “a sales get-together for all of our salespeople.” Quinlan also pointed out Sallie Mae has been funding such trips since its founding in the 1972.

A number of pieces of legislation before Congress could address some of the problems with student loans.  Among the most significant are H.R.3887, the Student Loan Debt Relief Act of 2019, which would eliminate up to $50,000 in student debt for every person with a gross household income under $100,000, and H.R.3257, the Student Loan Fairness Act, which would set maximums on the proportion of a borrower’s income that could be assigned to student loan debt payments and provides the opportunity for $45,000 of student loan debt to be cancelled once a borrower has made ten years of consecutive loan payments. H.R.3887 is currently with the House Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Judiciary Committees. H.R.3257 is currently with the House Education and Labor, Financial Services, and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP

You can let key committee chairs know that you’d like to see these bills pass. Addresses are here.

7. Free lunches at risk under proposed policy

Three million people could lose access to food stamps and one million children could lose their free lunches, according to a Department of Agriculture analysis, if a Trump proposal goes through. Children who receive food stamps automatically have access to free lunches—so application paperwork does not become a barrier, the New York Times explains. Trump sees it as problematic that currently, people whose income is 200% of the poverty line have access to food assistance. In a rare moment of reconsideration, the administration has re-opened public comment on the proposal—just for 14 days. RLS

You can write an official comment on this proposal: the deadline is November 1. Be sure to include the rule title; instructions and addresses are here.

8. New Trump proposal could bankrupt Medicare

Trump has issued an executive order aimed at requiring Medicare to pay amounts equal to those private insurers pay for services, rather than negotiating lower prices for Medicare recipients. This is a move that genuinely could bankrupt Medicare. The language of the executive order frequently cites the “threat” of Medicare-for-All to consumer choice, the LA Times reports. In the executive order, Trump explains his rationale, claiming that the changes will “modify Medicare FFS [fee-for-service] payments to more closely reflect the prices paid for services in MA [Medicare Advantage] and the commercial insurance market, to encourage more robust price competition, and otherwise to inject market pricing into Medicare FFS reimbursement.” How forcing Medicare to pay higher reimbursements will lower healthcare costs is a conundrum that defies logic. At some point, this should be posted as a federal rule change on which we can make official comments, but for now we can seek opposition to this change from our Congressmembers. S-HP

Addresses for members of Congress are here.

9. LGBTQ rights at risk

The rights of LGBTQ Americans are particularly vulnerable at the present moment. A federal judge has overturned health protections for transgender individuals that were part of the Affordable Care Act. The conservative-heavy Supreme Court recently heard arguments on whether or not the Civil Rights Act covers job discrimination against LGBTQ workers. S-HP.

Since we do not have a way to pressure the Supreme Court, urging your members of Congress to pass legislation is the next route toward preserving LGBTQ rights.

10. “Religious freedom” rule upheld

On Tuesday, federal judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas ruled against a regulation under Obama Care that prohibited healthcare providers from denying care based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, or pregnancy termination, reports the Hill. O’Connor, who had previously ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, said that the regulation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The ruling will likely be appealed. JM-L

11. Refugees: Not in our town

An executive order announced by the Trump administration on September 26 requires both state and local governments to consent in writing before refugees can be placed in their jurisdictions. As Forbes explains “Donald Trump’s new executive order appears designed to give veto power over resettling refugees to people who don’t like refugees and elected officials willing to play on those fears…. The executive order could play out in ways that might be characterized as ‘ugly.’ If several African refugee families have been resettled in a town in recent years, some residents could organize and argue to local or state officeholders against new admissions. Some people may not want anyone from the Middle East – or Asian or Jewish refugees – to live near them. The executive order may provide a government-sanctioned outlet for personal animosity toward foreign-born individuals and families.”

The order would also seriously undercut sanctuary legislation on the state and local level. This executive order probably violates existing law—at least if refusals by states or cities target specific refugee groups—but nonetheless promises another long-term court battle of the kind this administration is continually provoking. The Secretaries of State and of Health & Human Services have been directed to implement this new policy in the next 90 days. S-HP

If you object to implementation of this order, here are addresses for whom to write.

12. British family detained for 11 days after accidental detour into US

A British family–two couples, two young children and a 3 month old baby–were held in US Immigration custody for eleven nights, after crossing the US/Canadian border accidentally while vacationing in British Columbia, according to NPR. They were held at a family detention center in Pennsylvania, where they complained of inadequate facilities, including a lack of heat and infant-care supplies. They had a visa waiver to visit the US, the New York Times reported. One of the parents told the Times, “No one should have to suffer this kind of treatment. This would never happen in the United Kingdom to U.S. citizens, or anyone else, because people there are treated with dignity.” JM-L

13. Fewer families to be eligible for public housing

Federal rules changes have been proposed affecting how the Department of Housing and Urban Development would determine eligibility for public housing (also referred to as “means testing”). The changes are abstruse, but boil down to requiring a broader examination of “assets” and financial records in ways that would reduce the number of families qualifying for such assistance. S-HP

If you want to write an official comment about these changes, the instructions are here.

14. Cummings’ last work

Hours before his death, the late Elijah Cummings (D-MD) signed subpoenas relating to the policy shift around delayed deportations for immigrants and visitors who were in the U.S. for treatment of medical conditions when treatments were not available in their home countries. In August, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services sent letters to family members reversing the policy that undocumented visitors might stay to complete their treatment and telling them they would be deported. As CNN reports, a House oversight committee could not get USCIS to explain the origins or rationale for the policy. The testimony resulting from Cummings’ subpoenas may bring clarity. RLS

Share your appreciation for Cummings’ commitment to justice and an America that serves all: Family and Colleagues of Elijah Cummings, 1010 Park Ave, Suite 105, Baltimore, MD 2120

15. Voter purges undermining fair elections

Many state governments are trying to limit access to the right to vote by passing laws allowing regular voter purges. Most states that purge voting rolls, however, are not particularly transparent about the purge process, leaving people who wish to vote disenfranchised and making mistaken purges difficult to spot and rectify.

Ohio offers a case in point. According to the New York Times, Ohio had a list of 235,000 people it proposed to purge from voter rolls, but it did send the list of those who would be purged to voting advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters. What these groups found in working their way through this massive database is that the list included around 40,000 people, roughly 17%, who should not have been purged under the state’s own rules. One of those slated for purging was Jen Miller, the Ohio Director of the League of Women Voters, who told the New York Times, “I voted three times last year. I don’t like to think how many other individuals this has happened to.” S-HP

If you want to urge your members of Congress to initiate or act on bills intended to preserve election security, here are addresses.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

16. Terminology around climate matters

The Guardian has taken the lead in describing the climate situation with more precision, declaring that “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” are to be used instead of “climate change.” When a specific mechanism is in operation, the publication suggests we use exact terminology when possible. It further recommends using  “climate science denier” or “climate denier” rather than “climate sceptic,” and that we use  “wildlife,” not “biodiversity” and “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks,” as being more respectful of our fellow creatures. RLS

17. Environmental destruction as a war crime

Calls have been made for a Fifth Geneva Convention for the past two decades. The Fifth Convention would define particular kinds of environmental destruction as war crimes, attempting to protect the planet, in addition to people, during times of war, Global Citizen explains. As Nature reports, “military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, push species to extinction and poison water resources.” It also allows for easier global distribution of arms that can lead to “unsustainable hunting of wildlife.” S-HP

If you want to advocate for this proposal, here’s how.

18. Farmers coping with climate crisis ignored by Department of Ag

Farmers suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis have received almost no help from the Department of Agriculture. Earlier this fall, a “bomb cyclone” in the Midwest destroyed crops and livestock, ruined stored grain and meant that 20 million acres could not be planted. Extreme weather and fires elsewhere in the country have been financially catastrophic, but the Agriculture Department devotes only 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget to helping farmers cope with climate issues, according to Politico. Though it offers resources—called “hubs”—most farmers are not aware of them because the political atmosphere in the USDA is so hostile to any discussion that relates to climate. Thus, changes in farming strategies that might help them adapt are unavailable to them. The Politico story has a wealth of documentation and the detailed backstory on the silences on climate. RLS

If you would like to urge key committee chairs to make sure that farmers have the information they need, here are the addresses.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a set of clear, important actions you can take on various issues, from election security to immigration to women’s safety.
  • Amy Siskind’s weekly list of not-normal things is once again dis/re-orienting.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above, but other possibilities of particular interest to Californians can be found here.
  • Rogan’s list suggests whom you might contact about oil production, the situation of the Kurds, the Turkish invasion, the Democratic silence on the climate crisis, and much more.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record. She notes that there seems to be a good deal of behind the scenes rewriting of manuals and regulations, so a “proposed rule” is not always announced. She observes, too, the persistent undoing of the Clean Air Act. Her list has other Alaska anti-environmental proposals as well, available for comment.
  • Our colleague Chrysostom offers an election round-up news and polls from the House, Senate and states, as well as the latest on election security.

News You May Have Missed: October 13, 2019

Foreign policy too often seems brutal, thoughtless, short-sighted. But Trump’s latest move–to permit Turkey to invade the Kurdish-held territory of Syria, with no provision for security of Isis fighters and family members the Kurds were holding, no plan for the safety of civilians and no thought for the Kurds themelves who had battled Isis and served as a US ally–is beyond comprehension. Historian Heather Cox Richardon has a useful, if chilling, summary on her Facebook page.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. Turkey invades Kurdish-held areas of Syrian. Isis prisoners escape.

100,000 people have fled the Turkish invasion of northern Syrian and numerous civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters, who had been essential to the battle to defeat Isis, according to the AP. Last week, Trump—confounding even his loyalists—told Turkish president Erdogan that he would move US forces out of the area and allow the assault. According to Al Jazeera, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) called Trump’s decision “a stab in the back.”

Absurdly, Trump tried to justify his betrayal of the Kurds saying, ‘they didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us in Normandy.’ The Washington Post points out that the U.S. is aligned now with various countries who were enemies during WW II, and that the Kurds did not have a state then (or now), so could not assist as a state. Nonetheless, many Kurds opposed the Nazis and fought them with the British and Soviet armies.”

In addition:

  • Havrin Khalaf, a Kurdish politician and advocate for women’s rights, was killed during the Turkish invasion. Some factions claim that she—along with her driver—was killed by Turkish forces while others say she was killed by Isis, according to Rudaw, an Iraqi Kurdish publication.
  • Five Isis militants were broken out of a Syrian prison during the fighting, while twenty Isis women attacked officials at a camp in Syria, the Independent reported; Isis also claimed responsibility for a car bombing. On Sunday morning, hundreds of Isis families appeared to have left a detention camp, according to the Washington Post. The Independent noted the warning of a Kurdish official “that Isis detainees could break out of detention as Kurdish-led security forces confront the Turkish offensive and their ability to guard detainees is weakened.”
  • Democracy Now points out that among the terrible losses in this invasion is that of Rojava, a progressive democracy in Kurdish territory based on feminist principles.
  • In desperation, as of October 14 the Kurds seem to have forged an alliance with the Russian and Syrian governments, changing the dynamics of the regions, according to the New York Times. RLS

If you want to speak up about this incomprehensible turn of events, here are some suggestions.

2. China’s sexual abuse of Muslim women

Muslim minority women in China, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others who have taken refuge in Kazakhstan, report having been raped, sexually tormented, forcibly implanted with contraceptive devices and forced to have abortions while in China. Aiman Umarova, a Kazakh human rights advocate, told the Independent that “Sexually violating women, including stopping them from reproducing, has become a weapon for China against its Muslim population.”

Over a million Muslims have been detained in re-education camps for the last two years. Even Muslim countries have been reluctant to object to the treatment of women. The U.S. is blacklisting some police departments and eight companies involved in the production of surveillance equipment because they do business in Xinjiang, in northwestern China, which Uighurs live and are detained. The blacklist would prevent them from obtaining US-made electronics, the New York Times reports. Mike Pompeo also announced that Chinese officials suspected of detaining or abusing Uighurs will have their visas restricted.

Meanwhile, The China Tribunal has told the UN Human Rights Commission that China has been killing members of political minorities and extracting their organs, according to the Independent. The Tribunal says it has clear evidence that members of the Falun Gong group have been targets, and possibly the Uighur Muslims as well. A number of countries have already outlawed organ tourism to China, and a bill in the UK is pending. RLS

If you want to urge the Secretary of State and Senate leadership to pressure China on its treatment of Muslim women, here are the addresses.

3. Genocide against Brazil’s Indigenous people

A group of experts has warned that “genocide is underway” against Brazil’s indigenous peoples as President Bolsonaro attempts to undercut indigenous rights and to open significant portions of the Amazon rain forest to mining and large-scale agriculture. According to EcoWatch, the letter was issued after the firing of the coordinator for uncontacted tribes, Bruno Pereira, and warns that “this upheaval [as a result of Pereira’s firing] will provoke the genocide of uncontacted and recently contacted indigenous people.”

At the same time, the Brazilian Mining Minister, Bento Albuquerque has announced that “draft legislation to allow mining and agriculture on indigenous lands should be ready later this month.” Brazil has more uncontacted indigenous tribes than any other country and the policy, at least on paper, has been to forbid contact with these tribes and to leave the areas of the Amazon rainforest they inhabit untouched. In practice, there were 111 documented incursions into indigenous territories during 2018. That number since Bolsonaro took office in January, 2019, has jumped to 160, which suggests that by the end of this year there may have been as many as 240 incursions. S-HP

If you would like to see the Secretary of State and heads of appropriate congressional committees take up this issue, here are the names of whom to contact.

DOMESTIC NEWS

4. Some Trump anti-immigrant initiatives blocked

Several of Trump’s more egregious immigration policies have been blocked in court. In refusing to allow the Trump administration to keep children incarcerated for longer than the 20 days provided for in the Flores agreement, Judge Dolly Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California called the government’s reasoning “Kafkaesque.” The judge’s ruling–a response to a lawsuit by the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, will likely be appealed, the NY Times reports.

In addition, the so-called “public charge rule,” which would deny visas and green cards to immigrants whom the government thinks might use public benefits, was blocked by Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, as well as by judges in San Francisco (in response to lawsuits by Northern California counties) and Washington State, according to CBS News. The “public charge” rule has already had an impact on immigrant communities, with enrollment in the Affordable Care Act dropping and parents declining food and other assistance for their citizen children.

However, the American Immigration Lawyers Association says that a state department official says they plan to implement the public charge rule on October 15 anyway, despite the injunctions. RLS

5. Dangers to disabled and LGBTQ asylum-seekers in Mexico

Under Trump administration policy, asylum-seekers have been forced to stay in Mexico, rather than entering the U.S. to begin the asylum application process, as is the norm under international law. With over 50,000 asylum-seekers currently forced to stay in Mexico, conditions are horrible: overcrowded, with improvised and inadequate housing, food scarcity, and violence, including rape, kidnapping, and torture.

As highlighted by Presidential candidate Julian Castro, these conditions are particularly dangerous for disabled and LGBTQ asylum-seekers, who can be seen as easy targets for assault. On October 7, as the LA Times reported, Castro led a group of eight lesbian and gay asylum-seekers from Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras, along with a deaf asylum-seeker from El Salvador and three of her family members. While this action helped highlight the situation at the border, it did not lead to any change in status for the asylum-seekers accompanying Castro, who were all returned to Mexico by the end of the day. S-HP.

If you think that asylum-seekers who are LGBTQ, disabled or children should be able to wait for their hearings in the United States, here is whom to write.

6. Immigrants following legal process deported after marriage interviews

There’s a new twist in the administration’s anti-immigrant moves. Married couples with one partner who is a citizen or legal resident and another who is not must come in for “marriage interviews,” part of the process of gaining legal status for the partner without it. Now federal agents are arresting and deporting undocumented individuals leaving their marriage interviews, even when the result of the interview was positive, according to NBC News. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a pair legal cases in response to this move. The best-known suit involves six couples from Maryland, all of whom have been separated immediately after marriage interviews. The ACLU is pursuing a similar complaint in Massachusetts and says similar detentions have occurred in New York, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, and California. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the detention and deportation of immigrants following legal procedures, write your representatives.

7. Challenges to for-profit detention centers

According to a report from PBS and the Associated Press, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), the company that runs the children’s migrant detention center in Homestead, Florida, has received almost $300 million in contracts to shelter migrant children, compared to $1.3 million they received in 2015. In June, 20% of children in immigration custody were in CHS centers. CHS currently operates six detention facilities, including three “tender age” shelters that house infants and toddlers. CHS is also working to establish a facility in El Paso that could house up to 500 individuals. There are currently some 5,100 children housed in private immigration detention facilities. California Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, has just signed legislation that will lead to an end of all state contracts with privately run prisons and immigration detention centers. S-HP

If you want to thank Governor Newsom and urge your representatives to close for-profit detention centers everywhere, here are some addresses.

8. Billionaires pay taxes at lower rate than workers

The Washington Post, using information from the recently published report The Triumph of Injustice, has reported that in 2018, the super-rich paid a lower tax rate than working class (in this case the bottom 50% of all Americans). In 1960, the typical tax rate for the wealthiest 400 families in the U.S. was 56%. By 1980, that had dropped to 47%. This year, that had plummeted to 23%—less than the typical 24.2% paid by the bottom half of households. S-HP

If you have something to say about the current rate of taxation, you can write to your senators and representatives at these addresses.

9. Betsy DeVos facing jail time?

In June, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim issued a ruling that blocked the U.S. Department of Education from pursuing collection on student debts for former students at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. Corinthian filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of multiple investigations for fraud. At that time, an agreement was reached allowing Corinthian students with student loan debt to file a form that would prevent additional debt collection and refund monies already collected.

However, as reported in Bloomberg, in early October the Judge discovered that the Department of Education had repeatedly violated that order. In fact, more than 16,000 former Corinthian students had been contacted by the Department of Education and incorrectly informed that they had payments due on their student loans. At least 1,800 of those former students had wages or taxes garnished by the Department of Education. Judge Kim warned Department of Education lawyers, “At best it [the failure to stop collecting these student debts] is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order. According to Newsweek, Judge Kim is now in the process of deciding whether to find Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in contempt of court, which could lead to the Secretary serving jail time. S-HP

Do you think Betsy DeVos should resign? If so, you can tell her so here.

9. Russian interference in election confirmed; McConnell still resists election security

The GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report affirming that Russian operatives made significant use of social media to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to provide support to “Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin,” according to the New York Times. The goal of this social media campaign was to alienate significant proportions of the American electorate so that they would choose not to go to the polls. African Americans were the most frequent targets.

The Senate investigation also determined that this interference via social media continued—at an even greater rate—after the election. Richard Burr the Republican head of the committee has explained, “Russia in engaging in an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election.” This social media interference was facilitated by the fact that U.S. election laws do not require the disclosure of the funders of online political advertisements. The Senate Intelligence Committee report comes at a time when virtually all election-related legislation has been blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite the House’s passage of a number of pieces of legislation addressing the subject. S-HP

If you are inclined to write to McConnell and the Senate Intelligence Committee about election security, you can do so at these addresses.

10. Impeach Kavanaugh?

If you’re still disturbed by the hurried confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice last year, you’ll be interested to know about H.Res.560, a resolution currently before the House of Representatives calling for investigation of possible impeachment of Kavanaugh. This legislation currently has 14 cosponsors, including Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Jimmy Panetta is not among the cosponsors. H.Res.560 is currently with the House Rules Committee. S-HP.

If you would like the House to pass H.Res.560 and begin impeachment proceedings to look into Kavanaugh’s possible perjury during those hearings, you can write the Chair of the Rules committee here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Mass-produced fake comments

Millions of comments for the public record were submitted around the net-neutrality debate—and oddly, given that public opinion polls showed strong support for net neutrality, the comments swung the other way. Of the 22 million comments submitted, 9.5 million were fake, according to the New York Attorney General’s investigation. The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] demolished net-neutrality regulations anyway, a huge gift to big broadband companies.

How could that many fake comments be produced? An investigation by Buzzfeed found that “In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause.” Both companies have been involved in other campaigns, overwhelming public agencies with their submissions; LCX digital is associated with Christian right strategist Ralph Reed, who was also working for Broadband for America, and with right-wing political consultant Mary Cheney. Many of the emails used came from the Modern Business Solutions data breach, Buzzfeed found. Several million pro-net neutrality comments were also identical sentences from suspect addresses. RLS

If you would like to write the chair of the FCC and the congressional committees with oversight over the FCC, here are the addresses.

12. Herbicide plus other triggers leads to aggressive breast cancer, study shows

The commonly used herbicide glyphosate has been shown to cause tumor growth when combined with oxidative stress–“a chemical reaction that results from aging, diet, smoking, and alcohol,” researchers wrote in Frontiers in Genetics. Scientists from the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and an institute in France found that glyphosate alone did not cause breast cancer, but alarmingly, the combination led to an especially aggressive form of breast cancer, luminal B, found in younger women.

Glyphosate was also linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in a 2017 meta-analysis, Science Direct reported then. In 2015, the EPA found that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic while in 2017, the EPA declared it “not carcinogenic,” according to Indiana Environmental Reporter.

The lead scientist, Sophie Lelièvre,  a professor of cancer pharmacology in Purdue, said,  “Showing that glyphosate can trigger tumor growth, when combined with another frequently observed risk, is an important missing link when it comes to determining what causes cancer.” RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a number of well-focused action suggestions for voter empowerment and election security.
  • Amy Siskind’s list of not-normal events for week 151 is particularly illuminating this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s complete list is at this site, though her action items follow the stories above.
  • On her list, Martha calls our attention to item 7 under “NEW”; SEC is massively undoing Dodd-Frank in ways which would de-regulate banks. There are numerous other opportunities to weigh in on proposals to open wilderness areas to roads, lower environmental standards, much more.
  • Rogan’s list for Monday has a number of good opportunities to comment.
  • Our colleague Chrysostom’s column on elections is on hiatus this week; check it out in a few days.

News You May Have Missed: October 6, 2019

With a second whistleblower having emerged and more appeals to foreign government being reported, the plot continues to curdle around the impeachment investigation (see last week’s post below for a complete run-down, packed with sources). In this new(s) atmosphere, it can be hard to know what to read. This week we recommend:

♦ “Unfit for Office,” a meticulous piece in the Atlantic by George Conway, the attorney who is famously married to Kellyanne Conway, who since 2017 has advised the president.

♦ Heather Cox Richardson’s Facebook posts. Richardson is a professor of History at Boston College who has been producing lucid reports and analyses of recent events. Her posts are public and she’ll help you catch up without being overwhelmed.

Do keep up with our colleague Crysostom’s summaries of elections news; you’ll be amazed by what is going on under the radar.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. The NRA-Russsia connection

The National Rifle Association (NRA) apparently connected Russian officials with American elected officials in exchange for profitable business deals for NRA leaders. An investigation by Senate Finance Committee Democrats found that top officials at the NRA used the organization’s financial resources—largely collected via member dues—to curry favor with Russians. These activities included an NRA leadership trip to Russia, the NRA arranging meetings between Russians and elected officials, and lucrative business deals between NRA leadership and Russians. The NRA also paid for lodging and travel of Russian nationals throughout 2015 and 2016, as part of a relationship that supported foreign actors looking to influence the U.S. elections.

NBC News reports that “Former NRA President David Keene and his wife, Donna Keene, organized the trip [to Russia] with the promise of new business opportunities by the Russians, including access to a Russian arms manufacturer that was under U.S. sanctions….” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member of the Finance Committee that conducted the investigation, said that the NRA may have violated numerous tax laws. “The NRA,” he said, “has abused its tax-exempt status and essentially become a business enterprise that its board members and leadership use for lucrative personal business opportunities, including in Moscow.’”

More recently, according to the New York Times, Trump and NRA head Wayne LaPierre met at the White House for a discussion that included both ways the NRA might help Trump fight the current impeachment inquiry and Trump could help prevent action on gun reform. The NRA has responded to the New York Times story, claiming the meeting did not include any “quid pro quo” arrangements.

If you want to see the NRA’s political activities, its relationship with Trump, and its tax-exempt status fully investigated, tell your members of Congress.

2. Who should recuse himself?

Attorney General Barr’s conduct related to the whistleblower’s complaint and the Mueller Report and intelligence investigations have been deeply concerning, according to the New Yorker. He has repeatedly misrepresented his own actions and the Department of Justice’s decision-making process; he has also repeatedly refused Congress access to materials to which the Constitution grants them access. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had the professional ethics to recuse himself at the slightest suggestion of a conflict of interest in the Russia investigation. Barr is certainly equally compromised, both in terms of the Russia investigation and the new impeachment investigation regarding interactions between the Trump administration and Ukraine. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect Barr to at least match Sessions’ (not all that high) level of ethical behavior in his role as Attorney General. S-HP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has admitted that he was on the infamous phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to intervene in the election by digging up dirt on Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, MSNBC reports. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has asked him to recuse himself from any Ukraine-related issue.

Should Barr and Pompeo recuse themselves from the impeachment investigation? Let them know!

3. Blocking asylum-seekers

“This Week in Terrible Immigration News” on the Current Affairs website outlines many of the means by which the Trump administration is trying to limit both the number of asylum claims and the actual granting of asylum. Among the moves the administration is attempting:

  • -Make indefinite detention the norm for all asylum seekers, including children, and extend that detention throughout the entire asylum proceeding.
  • -Close legal ports of entry for asylum seekers while refusing to process asylum claims for those who enter the U.S. at a point that is not an official port of entry.
  • –Force all asylum seekers not from Mexico to remain in Mexico for the duration of their asylum proceeding, while simultaneously making it illegal for asylum seekers not from Mexico to travel through Mexico in their journey to seek asylum.
  • -Reverse precedents giving rights to asylum seekers. S-HP

Do you have something to say to Democratic candidates and congressmembers about these ongoing efforts to block pathways to asylum? Addresses are here.

4. Legal immigrants denied entry without health insurance

In addition to blocking those seeking asylum, Trump is trying to cut the number of immigrants overall. His latest strategy is a requirement that people already approved to immigrate legally must be able to show that they will have health insurance within 30 days of arriving in the country, either through a family member or an employer, or that they are wealthy enough to cover the costs of any healthcare expenses that might arise. As the Washington Post explains, the measure is clearly designed to cut the numbers of immigrants who have been waiting to join family members in the United States. RLS

If you want to speak up about this policy, which is clearly designed to prevent family reunification, you can write to the addresses here.

5. US wants to delay approval of asylum-seekers’ work permits

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has submitted notice of a federal rules change that would eliminate the requirement that asylum seekers’ initial work permit applications be processed within 30 days. According to Immigration Forum, if implemented, this rule change is apt to have a number of negative consequences. It will limit asylum seekers’ ability to find legal work and encourage participation in “under the table” employment; will lower tax revenues, due to the drop in legally employed asylum seekers; will make it more difficult for businesses to hire workers with needed skills; and will facilitate exploitation of asylum seekers. S-HP

If you want to speak up about this proposed rule change and its likely consequence, here is how you can get your comment on the public record.

6. Workers unsafe at poultry processing plants

ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have published a piece on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuing of line speed-up approvals to eleven poultry-processing plants, most of which have significant histories of worker injuries and deaths. How has the speed-up affected worker safety? We may never know because the Trump administration has ended a requirement that plants share their injury records with the government. Chicken processing plants in general have worse safety records than both coal mines and construction sites (workplaces typically viewed as hazardous) because workers are required to use extremely sharp knives at top speed with both these knives and other processing-line blades only inches from their hands. ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution note, “Scientific studies, including both government-funded and industry-sponsored, have established that going faster worsens the risk of repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. There is also evidence that feeling rushed or struggling to keep up with the work pace are factors in traumatic injuries.” S-HP

You can speak up about poultry processing line speeds!

7. Auditing the poor

The past spring, ProPublica reported that IRS audit rates are comparable for the working poor and the top 1%, which is counterintuitive, since tax fraud by the wealthy is much more apt than similar activities by the poor to affect government income from taxation. This led Congressmembers to question IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig regarding this IRS practice and to ask for a plan to fix the “imbalanced balance.” Rettig sent a report to Congress, but said that any decrease in audits of low-income taxpayers and increase in audits of wealthier taxpayer could not be undertaken unless the funds that have been cut from the IRS in the past nine years were restored. The reasoning? It’s easier to audit the poor. These audits can be done by low-level employees and are often pursued via mail, rather than in-person meetings. Auditing the rich is hard. The tax filings are more complex and must be done by higher-level employees—and the IRS has had difficulty retaining employees at this level. According to ProPublica, “[Senator Ron] Wyden [D-OR] agreed in a statement that the IRS needs more money, ‘but that does not eliminate the need for the agency to begin reversing the alarming trend of plummeting audit rates of the wealthy within its current budget.’” S-HP

You can speak up about the importance of auditing the rich. Here’s how.

8. Voting security at risk again

At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear about vulnerabilities in U.S. voting machines. The U.S. has no national cybersecurity requirements for voting machines, and vulnerabilities have been documented for years. In fact, some existing weaknesses were originally spotted as much as a decade ago. We also know about ongoing attempts by foreign governments to hack our voting systems, though the Hill thinks that the machines themselves are a higher security risk. Wired recently reported on Defcon Voting Village, a once-a-year gathering of hackers who attempt to compromise election machinery to identify its vulnerabilities so they can be addressed. The weaknesses they found included poor physical security protections, easily guessable hardcoded system credentials, potential for operating system manipulation, and vulnerabilies to remote attacks that could compromise the functioning of systems or bar access to those systems. S-HP

If you are concerned about cybersecurity for voting machines, you can address these officials.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. How fracking endangers health

Fracking endangers both the environment and human health, and is associated with birth defects, cancer and asthma, among other health problems, according to a recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, which pulled together the results of 1700 studies. Pregnant women in areas where fracking is prevalent are at “higher risk for poor birth outcomes, including premature birth, certain kinds of birth defects and small-for-date births—infants born small for the number of months of pregnancy,” PRI noted. Sandra Steingraber, who worked on the study, said that there was no regulatory framework to deal with the issues. “In other words,” she said, “there’s no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability, on which public health, of course, depends.” A 2015 study from the previous EPA demonstrated the danger that fracking poses to drinking water, contaminating water at various stages in the process. RLS

If you want your congress members to address the issue of fracking, here are their addresses.

10. US cities bracing for hundred-year floods–annually

Some island countries and several U.S. cities–including Los Angeles, Miami, Savannah, Honolulu, San Juan, Key West and San Diego–can expect “hundred-year floods” annually if the release of greenhouse gasses continues at the present rate, according to a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), summarized by the Washington Post. Oceans will rise by several feet by the end of the century; warming oceans have already damaged coral reefs and led to increasingly destructive storms. Science Alert quoted UN Secretary General António Guterres as saying at the most recent climate summit, “Even our language has to adapt: What once was called ‘climate change’ is now truly a ‘climate crisis.’ … We are seeing unprecedented temperatures, unrelenting storms and undeniable science.” RLS

11. Who funds climate deniers?

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Magazine has identified who funds the climate deniers–and it’s not just Coors and Koch, along with associated billionaires donating through donor trusts, which keep their identities secret. The Vanguard Foundation, a progressive charitable organization, and the Annenberg Foundation, which funds all manner of arts organizations and community groups, are both on the list. The article links to a 2013 study by Robert Brule and published in Climatic Change; Brule explains exactly how the movement to suppress climate change knowledge evolved and who funded it. RLS

If you want to speak up about this, you could write the foundations listed in the article. And you could remind people in Washington that the climate crisis needs to be addressed–now.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has many clear, positive actions that you can take this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list is always worth reviewing, as there are usually a few items that haven’t made it into our summaries.
  • Rogan’s list has a series of excellent action items and resources.
  • Martha’s list this week is a compenium of policy changes and proposed changes that affect the environment, public safety, individual rights–and more. Read through it for an education into the fine print of all that is going on. She offers opportunities to comment for the public record as well.

News You May Have Missed: September 29, 2019

We’re sure you haven’t missed the news about the whistleblower whose cogent and cautious complaint–that Trump had tried to use foreign aid as a bargaining chip to get the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son–was initially suppressed. However, as the plot gets thicker and thicker, we thought you might like to have a comprehensive overview of the whole messy story–at least to date.

We’ve also tried to keep track of the most critical immigration news (more stories follow). For a devastating summary of where things stand, see Brianna Rennix’s column in Current Affairs, “This Week in Terrible Immigration News.” Rennix is the Senior Editor of Current Affairs and an immigration attorney.

Our colleague Crysostom sums up the week’s news about appointments and elections.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Unpresidented.

A C.I.A. whistleblower has filed a complaint through formal legal channels. Their evidence was initially (possibly illegally) withheld from Congress. The complaint was declassified Wednesday (pdf; if you read only one link from our account, make it this one).

In July 2019, Trump called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure him to help smear a political rival. The smear? In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire Viktor Shokin from their top prosecutor position, with Western leaders and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists united in wanting the corrupt Shokin’s removal. Trump is saying Biden used his power to protect his son Hunter from prosecution, even though Shokin had already dropped his investigation into the Hunter Biden-associated company Burisma when Joe Biden intervened, and Hunter was hired after the period originally under investigation.

On the July 25 call (pdf; annotated by WaPo):

  • Zelensky curried favor with Trump by mentioning his stay at a Trump Hotel. Trump has trained world leaders to bargain for their national goals with personal favors. Ukraine already showed their understanding of this in 2018, when they stopped cooperating with Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort while the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell them missiles.
  • The president criticized Marie Louise Yovanovitch, ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 to May 2019, as “bad news”, and made the chilling comment, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”

But allegations of wrongdoing don’t hinge on a single phone call. Giuliani had multiple meetings with Ukrainian officials, at least one set up by the State Department. He also worked through Soviet-born Floridians Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have Ukrainian financial interests and histories of fraud, mafia ties, and ties to smugglers, all detailed in this article. Parnas and Fruman have stayed at the Trump Hotel, brunched with Don Jr., dined with Trump in Washington, and met with and raised funds for congressional Republicans, all “without registering as foreign agents or being vetted by the State Department.” A Florida lawyer specializing in foreign investments wired money from a client trust account to Parnas, who then transferred $325,000 of that money to a Trump-supporting super PAC, apparently laundering an illegal foreign campaign contribution. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is investigating.

The House has opened an impeachment inquiry into the President (video) where the question won’t be whether or not Trump broke the law, but whether he failed to uphold his constitutional duties. The Senate has started a bipartisan inquiry and will depose Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Both Senate and House heard from intelligence officials Thursday. On Sunday, the House Intelligence Committee made arrangements to hear testimony from the whistleblower, according to the Washington Post. Indivisible is calling on Pelosi to cancel the Sept 30-Oct 15 recess.

The whistleblower complaint also alleges that White House officials sometimes hide computer records of Trump communications with foreign officials (including the July 25 call) on a separate, covert network, in clear abuse of the National Security Act. CNN reported that among those foreign officials were Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The wrongdoing is not limited to Trump. Vice President Pence also discussed Biden with Zelensky (Trump helpfully threw Pence under the bus). Acting White House Chief of Staff Mulvaney ordered the hold on the distribution of funds. Secretary of State Pompeo got Ukrainian officials to defend Trump (and has been subpoenaed). Attorney General Barr was named by Trump in the call.

On Thursday morning, in a “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest” moment, Trump insinuated that the whistleblower, who he called a spy, should be killed, saying, “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” (LA Times audio)

It is illegal under US law for a politician to extort a foreign government to help win an election. Moreover, part of the $391 million package Trump delayed will pay for a secure system to allow Ukrainian military communications to continue despite ongoing Russian hacking and jamming… meaning that Trump compromised national security, and did so in a way that just happens to benefit Russia. JM

NYT keeps a list of Who Supports an Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump if you want to check on, and call, your representatives.

2. Other investigations.

Huffington Post reports on a potential second whistleblower with evidence given to Ways and Means that Trump tried to rig tax audit of his personal returns.

The New York Times has a summary of each of 30 investigations related to the president. JM

3. Many fewer refugees to be admitted to the U.S.

In a deeply disturbing move, President Trump has slashed the cap on the number of refuges the U.S. will admit, the New York Times reports. In 2016, then-President Obama suggested the U.S. should be taking responsibility globally for admitting 110,000 refugees annually. Last year, Trump and the Republicans accepted 30,000 refugees. Next year the U.S. intends to admit only 18,000 refugees.

In contrast, with only about 11% of the population of the U.S., Canada accepted 28,100 refugees in 2018, according to Global News. S-HP.

To speak up about our responsibility to the world’s refugees, write those on this list.

4. We’re all paying to keep empty detention centers open

While there haven’t been children in the Homestead Detention Center since August 3, taxpayers are still paying $720,000 day to keep the facility fully staffed in case of an influx. That’s a bit more than $5 million a week or $21.6 million per month, according to CBS News. Incarcerating children is helping to keep Caliburn, the company that runs this and other private prisons and whose Board members include ex-Chief of Staff John Kelly, profitable. The company actually wrote in their SEC filings: “Border enforcement and immigration policy is driving significant growth for our company.” S-HP

If you have opinions about whether this is a good use of your tax money, write your representatives–addresses here.

5. We’re all paying for the tariffs

The Center for American Progress has been examining the impact of Trump’s China tariffs. They report that the Federal Reserve estimates the tariffs will cost each U.S. household $831 per year, while JPMorgan is projecting a cost of $1000 per household—and both these numbers were calculated before Trump escalated the trade war with additional tariffs. The Center for American Progress estimates the current sot of these tariffs at over $100.7 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b). To look up the tariffs’ costs thus far for your Congressional district, just go here. S-HP

If you want to speak up about how much the tarrif war is costing you, write your representatives.

6. Graduate student teachers no longer “employees”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just published a proposed rule that would declare that students (undergraduate and graduate) working for any private college or university, including teachers and researchers, would not be considered “employees” under the law. This means they would have no collective bargaining rights and could not turn to the NLRB for redress of workplace abuses. The NLRB’s logic: “The Board believes that this proposed standard is consistent with the purposes and policies of the Act, which contemplates jurisdiction over economic relationships, not those that are primarily educational in nature.” However, as anyone with much contact with a college or university would already know, many schools now rely on graduate students to do the bulk of lower-division instruction and to avoid hiring additional faculty, which certainly sounds like “employment.” This proposed rule is open for comments through November 11. At the moment, only five comments have been submitted, so we need to speak up.

Do you want to let the NLRB know that labor is labor? If so, you can send a formal comment.

7. Election (In)security

You may have heard that the Senate, with Mitch McConnell’s blessing, has passed a $250 million election security bill. Before you start doing a happy dance, let’s look at some of the details. These monies would be given to local elections offices to purchase additional voting machines. Does it require machines with paper ballot verification? No. Does it require machines that haven’t been hacked in fifteen minutes by a twelve-year-old (seriously)? No. Does it require machines be auditable? No. Does it require that the machines not be connected to the internet, which facilitates hacking? No. S-HP

Do you have views on election security? Write your senators.

International News

8. Depriving the poorest countries of humanitarian aid

In April, President Trump froze foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in protest of the number of individuals from these countries entering the U.S. to seek asylum. The loss of aid makes conditions in the region even more dire, giving individuals who live there even more reason to attempt a move to the U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a story illustrating what frozen aid has meant for one Guatemalan family. The Marroquín family, struggling, small-scale corn farmers, had been delighted to receive a small monthly stipend through a program run by Save the Children and primarily financed with U.S. aid. The stipend was originally $60 a month, but after the aid freeze, the amount kept dropping, until the program was ended altogether. The family spent their final payment of $18 on chickens, in hopes that their eggs might provide a continuing source of calories and nutrition to supplement their corn.

According to NPR, other projects currently in jeopardy include “discount agricultural supply markets in the highlands; rural health clinics; community savings and loans funds; after-school tutoring for kids in violent urban neighborhoods; shelters for victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking; re-integration services for returned migrants; trainings aimed at improving the transparency and effectiveness of local governments; and support for conserving ecologically sensitive landscapes.” Are we to believe that punishing the poorest of the poor in these ways will discourage Guatemalans from seeking a better life in the U.S.? S-HP

Do you think foreign aid should be restored? Here’s a list of those to write.

9. Protect

Burma’s Rohingya people have suffered mass killings and gang rapes; 730,000 have fled to Bangladesh. The UN has said that the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims was conducted with “genocidal intent.” According to its own internal report, which Reuters obtained, the UN did not respond effectively in part because it did not have the support of the Security Council. As the report reads, “The overall responsibility was of a collective character; in other words, it truly can be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations.”

The House has passed H.R.3190, the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act. This legislation calls for sanctions on Burmese officials and, as explained in the official summary, “authorizes humanitarian aid for Burma, Bangladesh, and the surrounding region for various purposes, including aid for ethnic minorities targeted by Burma’s military and support for voluntary resettlement of displaced persons. The bill also prohibits security assistance for or security cooperation with Burma’s military and security forces, with exceptions for certain existing programs related to training, research, and reconciliation.” H.R.3190 has now moved to the Senate, where it is with the Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

Do you want your senators to advance the bill to protect Burma’s Rohingya people? Information here.

Science, Technology & Environment

10. Greta Thunberg attacks are coordinated 

Teen Vogue reports that the deluge of hateful remarks and criticism regarding 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg aren’t exactly of a grassroots groundswell variety. The reporting traces back much of the propaganda efforts to a familiar coterie of incredibly wealthy, old, white men best described as “free market radicals.” That a 16 year old girl has been moved to speak so articulately and passionately about what is almost certainly the greatest existential threat to her generation is apparently also existentially threatening to these moneyed interests. Among the originators are the laughably named Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the oil lobbying allied Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute as well as some key British players in the Brexit debacle. They say you can judge a person by their enemies; this seems very true with Ms. Thunberg. JC

11. New UN report reveals we are already within a climate catastrophe

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its newest report this week entitled “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate,” which details that we are already well past the point of no return to avoid serious climate related disasters. Among the baked-in impacts are *annual* so-called “hundred-year floods” for some cities, more than three feet of sea rise by the end of this century (displacing more than four million people in this country alone), sharp decline in ocean productivity, mass die-off of coral and increased water shortages from the end of glacier-supplied water sources. These are things that are going to happen, no matter what we do now.. even with the most extreme proposals;what will happen if we don’t make significant systemic changes will be much worse, the IPCC explains. JC

Resources

  • Sarah-Hope’s list is partly incorporated above, but she has additional material especially for Californians.
  • In addition to a variety of other actions you can take, Rogan’s list suggests some ways your voice can be heard on the Ukraine/impeachment issue.
  • In Martha’s list, note particularly the issue of water quality in Washington State.

News You May Have Missed: September 22, 2019

It seems to be the week of the whistleblower. You’ve likely not missed the news that Trump apparently asked the president of Ukraine–eight times in one phone call–to investigate Joe Biden’s son, and that the Justice Department is refusing to forward the whistleblower’s complaint about it to Congress.  You probably saw the articles on the FBI’s refusal to interview witnesses before Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, a refusal that has just now come to light.

But you might have missed the piece in the Guardian about the climate whistleblowers whose research was suppressed by the Trump administration, or CBS’s piece on the intelligence analyst who resigned because the Trump administration tried to delete five pages of “basic science” from its climate report. 

It’s incredible that this news would come out on the heels of the climate strike, in which millions of people all over the globe demanded climate action.  Canadians: you can march September 27. Torontonians: here’s a list of all the climate actions this week.

Americans: See Sarah-Hope’s list for ways to address the Justice Department’s refusal to follow whistleblower procedures, along with various other actions you can take to preserve human rights, object the suppression of climate science, and stop the impeding war against Iran. And see our colleague Crysostom’s election roundup; his September 19 post focuses on primary challengers and his September 17 post passes on the gossip about the North Caroline GOP. (Link in the Resources list, below.)

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum-seekers to be sent to El Salvador

Asylum-seekers who pass through El Salvador on the way to seek asylum in the U.S. must now seek asylum there first under a new agreement the Trump administration has struck with El Salvador, the New York Times reports. Not only will asylum-seekers be required to apply in El Salvador if they pass through the country., but they will actually be sent there from the U.S. border, according to the Washington Post.

El Salvador has a high rate of internal displacement and is riddled with gang violence, a New York Times story explained in detail last December. The Times says that tens of thousands of Salvadorans have had to leave their homes and in 2018, 46,800 Salvadorans sought asylum around the world. The murder rate may be falling, but in general Salvadorans do not go to the police when a family member is attacked, in fear of retaliation. Some Salvadorans in the US have Temporary Protected Status, which Trump has sought to end; a lawsuit halted the end of TPS only until January. Those without TPS who are deported face the same violent conditions they fled, along with the stigma of being a “returnee,” Foreign Policy in Focus explains.

In the 1980s, El Salvador endured a protracted civil war marked by atrocities; 70,000 people died. The United States supported the government that was widely understood to be responsible for the majority of human rights violations, pouring 1.5 million dollars a day into the conflict, according to some estimates. It is not clear what the U.S. has promised El Salvador in return for considering the asylum claims of people passing through the country; it is already contributing heavily to law enforcement there. According to the Times, a similar deal struck with Guatemala is on hold while lawsuits proceed. RLS

If you are concerned about U.S. abandonment of our responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees via agreement with Central American countries that face the same levels of violence the asylum-seekers and refugees are fleeing, you can write the people listed here.

2. “Factory justice” at the border

Asylum-seekers in Laredo, Texas, are having their cases heard in new courtrooms housed in tents, places where legal advocates are forbidden to make “Know Your Rights” presentations and the public and press are excluded. Judges are often not present but appeal virtually. “It’s like factory justice,” the LA Times quoted Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas’ advocacy director for Amnesty International USA, as saying. “They’re just trying to get as many people through with the least friction as possible. They know people having counsel will cause friction in their system — people will express fear and potentially win their cases.”

In Brownsville, Texas, families who have been required to stay in Mexico awaiting their court hearings have been required to show up to tent courts at 4 AM, navigating the dangerous city of Matamoros with their children at night, the Washington Post reported. These asylum seekers are homeless or in tent shelters in an area of Mexico that has a level-four State Department warning; that is, tourists are warned against visiting because of the risks of violence. RLS

If you have views on the need for transparency in the tent courts and for the safety of immigrants waiting in Mexico, those on this list should perhaps hear from you.

3. Documenting credible fear

Families seeking asylum in the U.S. must have a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries, as determined by an asylum officer. The process is grueling, requiring an hour-long interview, with an explanation of the process only available in a complicated document written in legalese, Sojourners explains. Unless a volunteer legal agency, such as the Dilley Pro Bono Project, is on hand, asylum seekers must go through these interviews without legal assistance. Now, the process is likely to become even more difficult, as the Trump administration plans to have Border Patrol agents, rather than asylum officers, conduct the “credible fear” interviews, SF Gate reports. The administration expects that Border Patrol agents will confirm fewer applicants as having credible fear. RLS

If you have concerns about the suitability of BP agents to ascertain credible fear, you can write the people listed here.

4. Girls in ICE custody deprived of menstrual supplies

A lawsuit filed by 19 states accuses the Trump administration of not providing adequate sanitary products to girls in ICE custody, leaving them to bleed through their clothes and unable to clean themselves. According to the Independent, “[t]he lawsuit includes testimony by Alma Poletti, an investigator,… who said one young woman who was having her period was only permitted to take a shower after 10 days. ‘[This young woman] recalls there was another girl at the facility who was also on her period. They were each given one sanitary pad per day. Although the guards knew they had their periods, they were not offered showers or a change of clothes, even when the other girl visibly bled through her pants.’” S-HP

You can write your congresspeople to urge that girls in ICE custody be provided with adequate sanitary supplies and opportunities to wash.

5. An “epidemic” of violence against trans women

The “life expectancy of trans women in the Americas is between 30 and 35 years of age,” reported the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2014. Bee Love Slater was the 18th transgender person killed this year in the U.S.—that is, the 18th murder that was reported and identified as such. Her body was found in a burned-out car near West Palm Beach, Florida. 17 year old Bailey Reeves was the 17th trans person killed; she was shot in Baltimore over Labor Day. The American Medical Association has described an “epidemic” of violence against trans people, especially African-Americans. However, transgender people are not protected by federal legislation and indeed, in August the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to permit discrimination on the basis of trans status, Time magazine reported. Florida’s hate-crime law excludes trans people, according to the Guardian. Note that at a September 20 Presidential candidate forum on LGBTQ issues, Elizabeth Warren specifically named each of the eighteen transgendered women who have been killed this year. RLS, S-HP

If you want to thank Elizabeth Warren for acknowledging these tragic deaths and to advocate that your member of Congress address hate crimes against trans people, the addresses are here.

6. EPA tries to open aquifers on Indigenous land to uranium mining

Uranium could be mined and contaminated water disposed of in the underground water tables in the Southern Black Hills of North Dakota  if Hong Kong-based Arzaga Uranium succeeds in obtaining permits. The EPA had already issued drafted permits, which were resoundingly rejected by members of the public and Native American communities; now it is proposing to re-issue permits and has opened a public comment period. Arzaga and its local subsidiary PowerTech would drill “4,000 new injection well holes in the Inyan Kara and Minnelusa aquifers at the 10,000-acre Dewey Burdock site located on the headwaters of the Cheyenne River, 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” Indianz reports. The EPA’s own guidelines require it to consult “on a government-to-government basis…when EPA actions and decisions may affect tribal interests.” However, no such consultation has taken place, according to tribal members. RLS

To speak up about water safety and to advocate for government-government consultation with Indigenous nations, comment for the public record. Here’s how.

7. Narrowing the options for challenging discrimination in housing

The Trump administration has introduced a new rule that may make it harder for people to bring forward discrimination complaints under the Fair Housing Act, City Lab explains. Currently, a philosophy of “disparate impact” has been to determine when housing practices are discriminatory. Under a Supreme Court ruling on the issue of “disparate impact” practices that adversely affect minorities, even practices that do not explicitly discriminate against them, can be considered violations of fair housing law. The proposed rule change would eliminate the use of the “disparate impact” standard in demonstrating discriminatory housing practices. The rule change would also indemnify lenders, landlords, and others, if they use third-party algorithms that are subsequently demonstrated to have a discriminatory effect in decisions about credit risks, interest rates, and more. S-HP

You can speak up for the public record about discrimination in housing . Here’s how.

8. Books banned in prisons

Multiple states as well as the federal prison system ban particular books or try to restrict book deliveries. Texas has banned “over 10,000 books from prisons, including books by Alice Walker, John Grisham, Jenna Bush Hager, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Bob Dole,” while allowing books from Adolf Hitler and David Duke, according to the Action Network. Oregon prisons are banning books that teach coding, Vice reports. Salon points out that various kinds of books that advise prisoners’ families how to cope, prisoners how to navigate the prison system, and various self-help books are banned; because the guidelines are so vague, it is difficult to appeal. RLS

You can ask the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to hold hearings on book restriction practices in prisons.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. War with Iran?

The Trump government very nearly attacked Iran in June, in retaliation for Iran’s downing of a surveillance drone; Trump bragged that he stopped the attack with 10 minutes to go because he was concerned about civilian deaths, the New York Times reports. Instead, he directed a cyber attack against an Iranian intelligence group, according to the Times. Now, Trump has sent troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in response to attacks on Saudi oil tankers which he blames on Iran.

Iran has sharply denied the attack and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for it, which they say are in retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s merciless bombings of territory they hold. The Trump administration has also intensified economic sanctions on Iran and denied visas to many Iranian students poised to study at campuses in the University of California system; those coming to graduate programs had already left jobs in Iran and turned down offers from other universities, the New York Times reports. Code Pink, Win Without War, and other organizations foresee war with Iran and are urging action against it. If you’re worried about the looming threat of war with Iran, H.R.2354 and S.1039, both titled the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, would explicitly deny Trump the authority he needs to go to war with Iran. H.R.2354 is with the House Foreign Affairs committee.

You can urge Congress to act to prevent war on Iran.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. North America has lost 3 billion birds

Research by American and Canadian scientists published in the journal Science details how over the last fifty years, bird species have declined in huge numbers across the board, with only a few exceptions. The research drew upon annual surveys conducted by volunteers across Canada and the United States encompassing 90% of species; they found that populations, even “common” suburban species, are in steep decline. Grassland birds such as meadowlarks and bobwhites have been particularly impacted, with declines of over fifty percent seen. The only species bucking this downward trend are waterfowl in wetlands such as ducks and geese and raptor species. It is no coincidence that the duck and goose habitats are jealously protected and nurtured by sportsmen while raptors have some of the strongest regulatory protections. The causes for the declines are familiar: loss of habitat, pesticides and feral cats. JC

Things you can do to preserve birds: •  Grow native plants
•  Ban neonicotinoids
•  Prevent window strikes
•  Keep cats indoors and spay or neuter 

11. Climate studies suppressed

The day before the worldwide Climate Strike, Democrats released a list of 1,400 climate-related studies produced by Department of Agriculture researchers, studies addressing such issues as the decline in the nutritional values of food and the projected drop in crop yields–all critical information for farmers and ranchers, along with the rest of us. None of these were made available to farmers who depend on Department of Agriculture information, according to Politico. Climate-related issues across a number of other departments were also silenced. The effect of the climate crisis on food supplies worldwide was the subject of a United Nations report in August, as we reported then; problems such as desertification, water scarcity, fire, drought, and other kinds of land degradation are becoming more acute, putting food security at risk. RLS

If you would like to address the suppression of climate research, write to your representatives. Here’s how.

RESOURCES

  • Chrysostom’s comprehensive election roundup.
  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers some clear-cut actions you can take to support voter turnout.
  • Some of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above; see others on her list.
  • Rogan’s list suggests actions you can take on impeachment, human rights, gun reform, border wall construction, fees charged to immigrants, and much more.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on a myriad of topics: cuts to food stamps, regulations linked to the USCIS public charge rule, expedited removal of immigrants, exploitation of the Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the California auto-emission waiver, immigration court changes, Medicaid work requirement, safe drinking water, nuclear weapons, pesticide residues allowed, the right of federal employees to unionize, miners exposed to diesel exhaust, and the ACA.

News You May Have Missed September 15, 2019

A youth-led climate strike is set for September 20 & 27. Canadians might want to look at this Chatelaine (yes, Chatelaine!) story for an overview. The overall climate strike website is a bit glitchy, but it identifies all the supporting organizations and will help you identify climate strike actions nearby. As Chatelaine points out, Canada is nowhere near the targets in the Paris Agreement that it signed; the Climate Action Network identifies the shortfalls and necessary steps. Vice has some ideas about how to support the climate strike if you can’t attend.

A few related sites: Toronto Climate Action Network, Rally and March September 27. Code Pink (San Francisco March September 20)

Closer to home, note Martha’s list below. Propose rule changes would relax safety regulations in nursing homes, but Monday the 16th is the last day to comment.

Our colleague Crysostom has news, polls, gossip and analysis on important state elections, as well as some possible gubenatorial recalls.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump blocks Temporary Protected Status for Bahamians

Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas devasted—an over-used word that might well be an understatement in the current moment. Mark Morgan, current chief of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), had suggested that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) could be extended to Bahamians as a result, which would be in line with past practice regarding TPS. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (both from Florida) have also called for TPS for those affected by Dorian. Donald Trump has shot down that possibility, claiming “very bad people” from the Bahamas would be a threat to the safety of Americans if allowed to remain in the country.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, the TPS program was established by Congress in 1990 and allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant temporary legal status to individuals in the U.S. whose home countries have been impacted by armed conflict or natural disaster to such an extent that it would be “unsafe and inhumane to force them to return.” TPS does not grant a path to citizenship; it merely allows those affected by disaster to remain in the U.S. for appropriate periods of time. Hurricane Dorian is clearly the sort of disaster to which TPS was intended to respond. S-HP

If you want to urge your representatives to advocate for TPS and appropriate visa waivers for survivors of Hurricane Dorian , you can find their addresses at this link.

2. Supreme Court allows Trump to require that refugees apply for asylum in the countries they pass through

Asylum-seekers now must apply for asylum in any country they pass through before arriving in the United States, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling. (Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.) For example, an asylum seeker from Guatemala must first apply and be turned down in Mexico. A lawsuit on this issue is wending its way through the lower courts, and while an injunction had kept the policy from being implemented, the Supreme Court said it could go forward while the lawsuits proceeded, NBC News reported. Mexico said it would not change its policies in order to accommodate the US policy, according to Democracy Now.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers are waiting at the Tijuana-San Diego border to apply for asylum in the US. El Otro Lado is the only group providing legal aid at that site; in a tweet they wrote, “This is a death sentence for most of our clients.” RLS

If you want to advocate for the rights of asylum seekers, the addresses of appropriate people are here. You can also donate to El Otro Lado here.

3. Funding to analyze backlogged rape kits must be reauthorized by September 30

The Debbie Smith act, due to expire September 30, has resulted in  200,000 solved rape cases. The act, reauthorized in 2014, provided funding to test backlogged rape kits, which contain the evidence gathered when someone has reported a rape. In 2017 the backlog was 169,000, according to the Washington Post; another 200,000 remain in labs and police evidence rooms.  One in five rape kits identifies a serial rapist.
In a reversal of the usual story, the Senate has reauthorized the funding, while the House has not; reauthorization is buried in the Violence Against Women Act, and a reconciliation process has not yet begun.
As Debbie Smith, for whom the Act was named, told the Post,  Smith said. “Hope deferred means another day, week or year that a rapist remains on the street.” RLS

To urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your representative to make sure that funding is authorized by the deadline, find their addresses here.

4. California passes bill banning for-profit prisons and detention centers

Assuming Governor Gavin Newsom signs the bill just passed by the California legislature, private prisons and immigrant detention facilities would be banned in California. There are currently four privately owned detention facilities in California, which are for all practical purposes prisons; in one of these facilities, Adelanto, immigrants were subject to abuse and denied medical care for “weeks and months,” according to the LA Times. The facilities will not be closed immediately but when their federal contracts end, Vice reported. Newsom is likely to sign the bill; as Democracy Now reported, when he was inaugurated, he said that California should “end the outrage of private prisons once and for all.” RLS

If you want to urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill–or suggest that your representatives sponsor similar legislation on the national level, check here for addresses.

5. Emoluments lawsuit against Trump can proceed

Trump may yet have to face a lawsuit based on the emoluments clause, which forbids elected officials from accepting profits from foreign governments. Though several courts had tossed out lawsuits saying they were politically motivated, a federal judge said that whether a lawsuit has political motivations is beside the point; lawsuits have to be evaluated on their merits. Time-consuming legal maneuvering will likely keep the case from going forward until after the 2020 election, according to Politico. RLS

If you wish to ask the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to continue to monitor possible emoluments clause violations by Donald Trump, you can contact him at this address.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Climate catastrope projected for Europe

Flooding and extreme rain in Northern and Central Europe. Drought in Southern Europe. The destruction of trees by bark beetle. Deadly cyanobacteria in warming lakes. Europe can expect an acute climate crisis unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

Various European political parties have advocated for the Green New Deal for Europe, which has identified ways to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

See the information above on the climate marches September 20 & 27.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Speaking of climate change…

A piece in the Washington Post outlines recent research showing that for many areas of the globe, the 2 c global warming “tipping point” is already here. While there have been many headlines about how global average temperatures are rising, not as much has been said of local temperature deviations, such as a “blob” of ocean just off the coast of Uruguay that has warmed by 3 c  since the 1980s, an increase which is having profound effects on local life and economies. An example is the yellow clam, once a significant food source that was abundant and gathered easily, with hundreds of tons collected in the mid 80’s. 1994 saw a massive die off of yellow clam; beaches were littered for miles with rotting shellfish. Stocks have not and likely will not ever recover.

Closer to home, the city of Philadelphia is enacting sweeping new procedures and protocols for heat emergencies as the number of days over 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the city have gone from an average of just three a year between 1950 and 1999 to over twice that in the last five years, according to Physics.Org. Heat emergencies present lethal danger to the elderly and infirm and by the end of the century, Philadelphia is expecting up to 53 days over 95 degrees. JC

8. Trump administration orders oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19.3 million acre home to herds of caribou, polar bears, seals and dozens of migratory birds. It has also long been a target for the oil and gas industry, with large reserves of both oil and natural gas suspected to lie in the same geological formations that made areas like Prudhoe Bay so productive. The Trump administration managed get access to drilling with a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, controversial for its enormous tax cuts to wealthy corporations, legally opening the way to drilling and actually requiring that three leases to ANWR land be sold to the petroleum industry, the Washington Post reports.

The current proposed plans include four airstrips and drilling pads, 175 miles of roads, supports for pipelines and a seawater treatment plant. It is projected that the end of this century will see the extinction of several bird and seal species that depend on sea ice as well as many other species driven to threatened or endangered status. Scientists say that in order to prevent the worst case scenarios for climate change, we must stop all consumption of carbon fuels immediately; additional drilling is literally pouring fuel onto the fire. JC

See Martha’s list to find out how to comment on the plan to drill in Alaska’s Coastal Plain.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist emphasizes election security preparation and Temporary Protected Status for Bahamians. They also offer some good news.
  • Martha’s list alerts us to how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wants to modify nursing home regulations yet again – all but eliminating the ombudsman program and other protections. The proposed requirements would rollback numerous resident protections by eliminating or easing up on specific nursing home responsibilities. The result for residents? Reduced standards for safety, quality care and rights. Comment by the end of the day on the 16th. If you miss it, look at all the other issues in play.
  • See Martha’s list as well for opportunities to comment for the public record on cuts to food stamps, regulations linked to USCIS public charge rule, expedited removal of immigrants, immigration court changes, the Medicaid work requirement, and more.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list this week focuses on California. Because the legislature had to pass bills by September 13, a pile of crucial laws are now on Governor Newsom’s desk.
  • Rogan’s list also has some crucial items–on stopping adoptee deportation, stopping open carry in stores, forgiving student loans, and much more, including a list of where companies make political donations.

News You May Have Missed: September 8, 2019

Attention to elections and voter suppression is essential if 2020 is not to be a rerun of 2016. Metafilter notes a series of troublespots; Sarah-Hope reviews the most pressing issues below. Our colleague Crysostom asks “Will the last one to leave the House of Representatives please turn out the lights?” He sketches the impact of retirements and looks at polling data.

This week we also look at who is being targeted for surveillance, some quieter and more confusing immigration issues, and the impact of Trump’s wall on wildlife refuges, aid to Puerto Rico, and military families. And close to home, have you wondered why you couldn’t get your student loans forgiven, despite being in public service since forever? See story number 5.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Delete your old tweets!

A group of Trump supporters has committed to raising $2 million to investigate CNN, MSNBC, all broadcast networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and other news organizations, which it describes as media that “routinely incorporate bias and misinformation in their coverage.” Investigating potential inaccuracies in reporting is nothing new and has been pursued by groups all along the political spectrum.

What sets this project apart from others is its promise to “track the editors and reporters of these organizations” and to slip damaging information about these individuals to “friendly news outlets,” Axios reports. The New York Times reported that four sources close to the organization said that ” it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.” S-HP

If you are troubled by this new focus on discrediting individuals, you may want to raise these concerns with your elected officials.

2. Border policy protestors targeted

A document obtained by Yahoo News indicates that the FBI is monitoring groups protesting U.S. immigration policy along the southern border. The document, “an external intelligence note,” was produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office and distributed to other law enforcement agencies. It alleges that these groups are “increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals.” (There seems to be less concern about anti-immigrant vigilante groups, such as the Guardian Patriots, which have been for years terrorizing immigrants along the border–with the tacit approval of the Border Patrol, according to the Washington Post.) According to Yahoo News, “The intelligence collected and cited in the FBI document… is worrisome to activists and civil rights advocates who say that the government is classifying legitimate government opposition and legally protected speech as violent extremism or domestic terrorism.” S-HP

If you’d like to see an investigation into the surveillance of activists, write Congress here.

3. Indigenous communities targeted by “virtual wall”

Surveillance towers and methods that are “field-proven,” presumably on Palestinians, are scheduled for construction across the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona, a community beseiged by drone surveillance, facial recognition software and security checkpoints, according to the Intercept. The Border Patrol has contracted with the U.S. division of Elbit Systems, a large miliary equipment company in Israel, to further develop a 26 million dollar security system.; Elbit has already built 55 fixed towers in southern Arizona. Younger community members working or studying in the cities are less and less eager to come home, as their movements are incessantly tracked. As the Intercept describes it, ” Vehicle barriers, surveillance cameras, and trucks have appeared near burial grounds and on hilltops amid ancient saguaro forests, which are sacred to people on the reservation.” RLS

4. Cherokee Nation sending representative to Congress

The 1835 Treaty of New Echota resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its tribal land to territories in Oklahoma, an event known as the Trail of Tears. Nearly 4,000 died as a result of that forced march. As part of the 1835 treaty, the US government promised the Cherokee Nation that it could seat a delegate in the US House of Representatives. The Cherokee Nation has now announced its intention to appoint a delegate, Kimberly Teehee, according to CNN. Teehee interned with Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation, and pursued a career in law, on Mankiller’s advice, when she returned to college from that internship. She has worked for the Democratic National Committee and was a policy advisor during the Obama administration. She contributed to the Violence Against Women Act and to the formation of Congress’ Native American Caucus. Congress will have to take action before Teehee can begin serving as the Cherokee Nation’s representative. S-HP

If you would like to congratulate Teehee on her appointment and ask Speaker Pelosi to welcome her, the contact information is here.

5. Review finds public servants still denied student loan relief

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that a revised version of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) called the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF) has failed to address profound failures to deliver on its promises to dedicated public servants such as teachers and nurses. The PSLF came under criticism by Congress because the vast majority of applicants were being rejected.

The program promises forgiveness of student loans after ten years of work in certain public service professions. A very small percentage of applicants managed to actually obtain loan forgiveness, the vast majority being rejected for a variety of minor rule requirements or unclear guidelines, according to NPR. To address this issue, Congress created TEPSLF and set aside $700 million in funding for the program, directing the Department of Education to streamline and simplify the process for approval. The GAO has found that to date only $27 million had been distributed, just 661 out of over 54,000 requests: A failure rate of 99%. The majority of rejections were because applicants had not first applied for the PSLF program and been rejected, a requirement which was unclear to say the least. Smaller numbers were rejected for not making the required 10 years of payments and a technicality that requires the payments made be equal to or more than the sum of an income-driven repayment plan. The GAO recommends further streamlining of the process. 

6. “Expedited removal” procedures would allow immigrants to be removed without a hearing–and without the right to appeal

Currently, Department of Homeland Security rules allow for expedited removal of any undocumented immigrant arrested within 100 miles of a land border—and the definition of “undocumented” being used is questionable, with several recent cases of U.S.-born citizens being taken into immigration detention under this rule, Think Progress reports. Eighteen-year-old Francisco Galicia, for example, was arrested while traveling with friends to a soccer event. He provided Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with his Texas state ID, which he had obtained by providing his social security card. His mother provided CBP with his original birth certificate, showing he was born in the U.S., as well as his health insurance card and has school ID. Despite this, Galicia continued to be held by CBP for three weeks and was refused the right to make phone calls for that entire period—regardless of the fact that such immigration holds are legally limited to seventy-two hours. After those three weeks, Galicia was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was released within a few days.

The fact that such illegal detentions of U.S. citizens are happening now under the more limited rule suggests that illegal detentions of citizens will increase when the rule is broadened—by 20,000 additional incidents per year, NPR speculates, also pointing out that expedited removal regulations permit people to be deported without a hearing and do not allow for appeals. However, in a hearing September 6, the ACLU asked a federal judge for an injunction, as expedited removals were expected to begin early in September, Courthouse News reports. S-HP.

This rule is currently open for public comments. Information on how to comment is here.

7. Judges losing authority over immigration–comment now.

The Republican administration appears to be attempting to circumvent the nation’s system of immigration courts. The Department of Justice (DoJ) is attempting to have the union representing immigration judges decertified, claiming that the judges are management and therefore do not qualify for union representation. Judge Ashley Tabaddor, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, objects to this claim, telling NPR that “[Immigration judges] do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.” The Federal Labor Relations Agency previously rejected a similar effort during the Clinton administration, but the make-up of the Agency has seen such significant changes in subsequent years that there is no assurance it will rule similarly this time around. Judges are pressured to hear 700 cases per year and cope with ever-changing rules without sufficient administrative report, as Ilyce Shugall, director of the Immigrant Legal Defense Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco, explains.

In addition, the Department of Justice has announced a new interim rule that gives the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR—the office within the DoJ that oversees immigration courts) the power to issue decisions in immigration cases not decided within a certain timeframe. Given that the nation current has only 440 immigration judges who are facing 900,000 pending immigration cases, this suggests that a significant portion of future immigration decisions may not be made by immigration judges. S-HP

This rule change has been put into place but can still be officially commented on. See the link and this document for information.

8. Voter suppression looms

Let’s connect some dots about voting in the U.S:

*For years under the Voting Rights Act, states with counties that had histories of racially based voter discrimination required federal “pre-clearance” (permission) before changing their voting laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling threw out that requirement. Since then, states that previously needed pre-clearance to change voting laws—particularly Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona—have had 40% higher rates of voter purging than states that had no history of discrimination necessitating pre-clearance.

*Between 2014 and 2016 (after pre-clearance was no longer required), some 16 million voters were purged from state voter rolls. Between 2016 and 2018 17 million voters were purged.

*According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2018, 10 states had “strict” voter ID laws that require voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot and to provide additional identifying information after the election before their votes will be counted. Another 25 states had “non-strict” voter ID laws, that allow at least some (though often very few) voters without ID to have their votes counted without providing additional identifying information after the election. Two more states had voter identification laws that were not enforced at that time because they were stuck down by courts.

*An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has found serious voting irregularities in Georgia elections, according to Salon, with the rates of irregularities highest in primarily African American voting districts.

*Reporting by Bloomberg Businessweek has revealed probable collaboration between the 2016 Trump campaign and an organization called Trump for Urban Communities that was dedicated to sending Black voters the message, “If you can’t stomach Trump, just don’t vote for other people and don’t vote at all.” The campaign was most active in urban centers that ultimately had lower-than-expected Black voter turnout.

*Twelve states still use paperless electronic voting machines in some areas. Four states use them statewide. Given all this, it would be unreasonable not to draw the conclusion that the right to vote, particularly for voters of color, is at risk in many parts of the U.S. While the House has passed several pieces of voting rights/vote protection legislation, Mitch McConnell has not allowed any of that legislation to be voted on in the Senate. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the right to vote, your legislators’ contact information can be found here.

9. Military families sacrifice daycare & schools to build Trump’s wall; Puerto Rico loses $400 million for hurricane reconstruction

Not only will nine schools and a daycare center on military bases not be built if Trump succeeds in diverting $3.6 billion from the military budget to his border wall, but critical rebuilding funds will not be sent to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. MSNBC notes that Puerto Rico will lose the most, 400m. Trump declared a national emergency at the border in order to justify diverting $8 billion from other federal budgets for the wall, and already diverted $2.5 billion from the military budget, according to Politico. PBS News Hour has an explainer on the issue, pointing out that whether Congress will backfill the Pentagon budget that Trump has raided will only become clear next month when legislators come back from recess. A group of Democratic senators wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, saying that “We also expect a full justification of how the decision to cancel was made for each project selected and why a border wall is more important to our national security and the well-being of our service members and their families than these projects.”
Trump has become increasingly frantic to get the wall built before the 2020 election, the Washington Post reports, so much so that he told aides he would pardon them if they violated any laws getting it done (later claiming it was a joke). He also is determined that it should be painted black. RLS

If you have views about this redirection of funds, you can write the Acting Secretary of Defense and your elected officials here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Complicity in war crimes in Yemen

The United Nations-commissioned Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEEY) said during a press conference that the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Iran may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen because they have supplied weapons to parties in the conflict, a practice which “perpetuates the conflict” and has prolonged the suffering of the Yemeni people, CNN reports. GEEY also said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the internationally recognized Yemeni government, and Iranian-backed rebels fighting the government have all enjoyed a “pervasive lack of accountability” for their actions in the conflict, which include torture, sexual violence, and the deliberate use of starvation as a tool of war. The GEEY “has recommended that their states prohibit authorization of arms transfers and refrain from providing arms to parties in the conflict…. Because of the prevailing risk that such arms will be used by parties to commit or to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

If you think the US should stop sending weapons to Yemen, write your elected officials.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Suicide rates climbing, especially in rural areas.

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open provides evidence that suicide rates in the United States are rising, particularly in rural areas of the nation. Researchers at Ohio State University took data spanning from 1999 to 2016 and did a county-by-county breakdown, finding that suicide rates had increased in that time by a sobering 41%. 1999 saw 15 suicides per 100,000 people per county and 2016 had 21 deaths per 100,000. Rural areas saw the largest increase by far, with a shocking 22 deaths per 100,000 on average, with large urban areas showing 17 per 100k. Interesting, there appeared to be a relation between the number of gun stores and the suicide rate, linking easier availability to firearms with higher rates of suicide. Rural areas suffer from a lack of resources and education regarding suicide prevention.

12. Maps that actually matter

If Trump’s 17 environmental waivers go through, the Border Wall will cut through six tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as through the towns of Mission and La Grulla and along the edge of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, according to the Monitor. These were areas excluded from the Congressional budget agreement earlier this year after considerable outcry. The waivers were executed by acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and effectively bypass Congress, while waiving  the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Farmland Protection Policy Act, according to the Valley Greenspace Blog, which speaks to issues in the Rio Grande Valley. A map is available on their site.

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is home to endangered species, such as the ocelot, as well as four hundred species of birds, some of them rare, according to the Texas Monthly.  Border construction is also beginning this week in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a national park in Arizona, construction which will tear out ancient Saguaro cactus as well as creosote. Members of the Tohono O’odam Nation “harvest saguaro fruit and perform their sacred salt ceremony in and around Organ Pipe,” according to High Country News. By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds.

By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds. RLS

If you want to speak up about the destruction of wildlife refuges, information to do so is here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is still on summer break, but you can sign up for their checklist now.
  • In addition to proposing various action items, Sarah-Hope recommends that we send well-wishes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See Sarah-Hope’s list here.
  • Most important on Martha’s list are the USCIS tip form and cuts to food stamps (SNAP). She also identifies opportunities for public comment on proposed changes Medicare Part B, impending exploitation Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the Medicaid work requirement, Drinking water, Nuclear weapons, allowable residues of pesticides residuesm the right of federal employees to unionize, and more.
  • If you want to help victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, plant trees to address the climate crisis, work against the deportation of immigrants in medical need, or engage in some other way, see Rogan’s List, now with new items.